Barring the controversy over the investment in the squad and Barcelona needing to re-establish themselves as kings in Spain and Europe, there is another dimension to his large summer transfer spend. He’s still trying to close an 18-year gap: Lionel Messi’s time in the Blaugrana first team.
18 years old. This is perhaps the age of his most valuable young player: Gavi. For all the talk of striker Robert Lewandowski, defender Jules Koundé and other major Camp Nou signings, it’s the young Spanish midfielder who is arguably the the defining spell at the club. He should determine whether he and Barcelona come of age.
According to some indicators, Gavi has already done this. Barcelona have so far rebuffed any interest in him, with Liverpool among the European heavyweights believed to have watched the teenager, whose liveliness and cunning have captured the imagination of many.
It remains unclear where he wants to play, with some rumors that a much-anticipated contract renewal hinges on another player, Manchester City playmaker Bernardo Silva, becoming another successful addition. That’s despite not registering any La Liga signings yet. Either way, the idea that Barcelona could make him the Portuguese’s second fiddle could be a dealbreaker for the academy graduate. As good as Bernardo is, his employer would do worse than listen to his talent, as his stock at 18 indicates what a valuable player he is even now.
Barcelona, however, are under pressure. Failure to quickly turn big bucks – also spent on Las Vegas clásico winner Raphinha – into success could see the board rattle even more next year. While everyone has to weigh their weight, if Gavi makes the difference in midfield, it will tell us a lot about him and Barcelona going forward.
Holding on to him and the equally revered Pedri is more vital than ever. If this spending operation does not work out, it will at least need its young stars to commit to the longer-term project. Sportingly and commercially, they could prove to be assets in the future, with their marketability and commercial value likely to explode in the years to come, as Messi did.
Keeping these players happy and, above all, making sure he can afford to keep them – which eventually broke with Messi – will mean he has two valuable assets down the line. As the FinancialTimes cited, 19-year-old Pedri is the fourth most valuable player in the CIES Football Observatory in the world.
Gavi is not Messi and never will be. Nobody either, for that matter. But according to previous evidence, Barcelona benefit from players in the Gavi mold – nimble and precise passers who are hard to dispossess when on the ball. Barcelona must retain a successful Gavi at all costs, assuming their curious financial operations and La Liga vigilance allow it.
This is especially relevant when considering the man who feeds him at the edge of the pitch. Xavi honed the same central midfield role during Barcelona’s heyday, understanding the inside out position. Despite his lack of coaching experience in Europe, one of the main advantages of recruiting Xavi was his tactical acumen and appreciation for the game – clear to see during his playing days in the team he leads now.
At a time when Barcelona are selling themselves more for short-term gain, the little teenager embodies what many football romantics best associate with the Blaugrana – a team with a clear identity thanks to players in the Gavi-Pedri mould. Losing him would be a blow.
Barcelona have by no means abandoned their youth during this mammoth spending spree. Ansu Fati, another promising Spaniard, is a cog in Barcelona’s plans and will be hoping for an injury-free run when action resumes. Nico González, who gained more experience last season, is another.
But if Barcelona’s business isn’t done, they risk impulsiveness rather than durability. Barcelona’s seasonal acquisitions are all 25 years or older and can be used as quick fixes, replacing a more considered plan. Find the right balance and everything can click. Despite being a season opener, Lewandowski’s seller Bayern Munich have just dismantled Eintracht Frankfurt thanks to a mix of top rookie Sadio Mané and, even more so, his young midfielder fed Jamal Musiala. This is the mix Barcelona need.
Despite all the hype surrounding the new faces, there is no player quite like Gavi. And there’s also no closer imitation of Messi than the youngster. And it’s timely, with a growing clamor for it to return in some capacity. In the meantime, Barcelona should focus on recreating the Argentine spirit with the crop they already have. It’s not easy to buy.