Ansu Fati can represent Spain at the upcoming U-17 World Cup, provided Barcelona releases him.
Barcelona starlet Ansu Fati has been granted Spanish citizenship ahead of the upcoming 2019 FIFA Under-17 World Cup in Brazil, amid claims he has been named in a provisional Spain squad for the prestigious youth tournament.
However, the Spanish federation (RFEF) could now be on a potential collision with Barcelona, who are said to be reluctant to release the youngster for the tournament as it would cause him to miss games at the club level.
Fati has been nothing short of a revelation for Barça since August and has taken full advantage of early season injuries to Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Ousmane Dembele to get his chance.
The 16-year-old prodigy scored a crucial equalizer when he came off the bench in a game against Osasuna, before getting a goal and assist against Valencia. He also started the 0-0 Champions League draw against Borussia Dortmund earlier this week.
Fati has lived in Spain since the age of 6 when his family immigrated, but getting a Spanish passport was the key to him being eligible to play international football for his adopted country.
Citizenship, which is believed to have been a fast-tracked application so he could be picked for the Under-17 World Cup that kicks off on 26 October, has now been granted.
Marca notes that the process was overseen by Spain's Council of Ministers.
Despite committing to Spain, he will also remain eligible for Guinea-Bissau, the country of his birth; and Portugal, with his grandparents possessing passports owing to Guinea-Bissau’s former colonial status, until he plays a competitive senior international.
However, even though the youngster has been naturalised in time, there is still the serious matter of a battle with Barcelona over releasing him. Rumor has it, they are not keen to.
ESPN cites sources to claim that Barça feel it would be ‘detrimental’ for Fati to be taken out of the squad – the Under-17 World Cup will last for around three weeks. There is apparently concern at Camp Nou of the risk of ‘halting the progression’ the player has made this season.
Fati’s playing time will understandably diminish as Messi and then Dembele return to action on a regular basis, but it is said that coach Ernesto Valverde wants the player training with the first-team squad all season. He may then also occasionally play games for Barcelona B.
With the additional time for training before the tournament begins for real, Barcelona are worried that Fati will miss up to seven games in all competitions should Spain reach the final. For Barça, the club versus country debate when it comes to releasing talented youngsters for age-restricted international tournaments during the season is actually nothing new.
Back in 2008, Barça refused to release a then 21-year-old Lionel Messi for the Olympics in Beijing after he was named in the Argentina Under-23 squad. Messi was far more important then than Fati is now, having already played over 100 first-team games and being propelled into a major role by the departures of both Ronaldinho and Deco that summer.
Even the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled in Barcelona’s favor, judging that the club had no legal obligation to release Messi for international duty. It was only after the input of new coach Pep Guardiola, who had himself won an Olympic gold medal with Spain in 1992, that the club backed down and Messi was allowed to travel to China.
In the end, it proved to be the best outcome. Messi won the gold medal with Argentina, missing the start of the season in the process, but then went on to have a breakout campaign when he returned to club action that has set the tone for the rest of his career, scoring 38 goals as Barcelona completed their first ever La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League treble.
To counter that, however, Barça could argue in 2019 that the Under-17 World Cup is potentially a much longer commitment for Fati than the Olympics were for Messi 11 years ago.