I should know, I've followed a few

I should know, I've followed a few

Fifteen-year-old Lamine Yamal's impact was instant, he danced his way through the Betis defence


Friday, 5 May 2023, 18:18


Failing to prepare is preparing to fail has always been my commentary motto. When Barcelona padded out their 11 player substitutes' bench with 15-year-old Lamine Yamal it looked like he was a competition winner.

In truth, he is the star of the youth team and he has an agent threatening to take him elsewhere unless he receives recognition. The chances of the teenager making his debut were slim, especially when the opponents were one of Liga's high-flyers Real Betis and the title isn't yet secured.

As the evening progressed it became more plausible. Betis lost a centre half, his replacement was sent-off, Barcelona went two goals up against ten men. One of those was Joaquin, the oldest player in La Liga. Once the third goal was scored, coach Xavi Hernández felt he could introduce a young man who looked more like a mascot than a potential superstar.

Luckily, I'd done my homework on the unknown number 41. Yamal has been fast-tracked from the youth side, bypassing the B team. He wasn't just making up the numbers, he was rubbing shoulders with his teammates of the future.

Maybe it needed to be a Saturday game as mid-week matches would be on a school night.

His impact was instant. Within minutes, he danced his way through the Betis defence and forced the goalkeeper into a sharp save. He'd become the club's youngest-ever player on ability.

To misquote from Monty Python's Life of Brian, "I should know. I've followed a few." Over the years, I've commentated on Wayne Rooney's first-ever goal, Lionel Messi's debut and subsequent first score. I commentated on Cristiano Ronaldo when he was an unknown seventeen-year-old at Sporting Lisbon. Yamal's debut reminded me of Steven Gerrard's introduction to Anfield. Likewise, fans had little knowledge of the kid called up from the youth team, Gerrard's name wasn't even on the back of the Liverpool matchday programme. The rest is history.

False messiahs

There have been a few false messiahs over the years as well. Adama Traoré, Bojan Krkić and Gerard Deulofeu never lived up to the hype. Martin Ødegaard is only realising his teenage potential now he's 24.

Those in the know are fully aware of Yamal. The starlet is already represented by Jorge Mendes who is renowned for snapping up the best young talent on the planet. The super-agent united with Ronaldo and José Mourinho when they were first making their way in the world. He also represents Barca teenage talents Ansu Fati and Alejandro Balde.

It's a crazy world when a schoolkid already has a multi-millionaire representative, especially as he can't sign a professional contract until his 16th birthday. Hopefully he will guide him diligently.

Some feel that Yamal was only given his debut to keep Mendes sweet. The effect he had on the game suggested otherwise. Even Xavi made cautious comparisons to Messi.

He'll be aware that he could turn out to be the next Ilaix Moriba who was also fast tracked into a debut two days after his eighteenth birthday in an effort to appease an agent.

Moriba's agent advised him to head to Leipzig and now he's in football's no-man's-land.

Lamal appears to be an exceptional talent, but he is a teenage boy and needs to develop as a footballer and human being at his own pace. We've had a glimpse into the future, and it looks excitingly bright.

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