In a summer of so many lows and very few highs for Futbol Club Barcelona, one glimmer of positivity and hope that has shone through the darkness is the emergence of Pablo Martín Páez Gavira, better known as “Gavi”.
The Sevillano midfielder joined the ranks of La Masia as an 11 year-old prospect after leaving the famed Real Betis Cantera, and made his much-anticipated debut in a 2-1 victory over Getafe in matchday 3, becoming the 4th youngest player to ever lace up in la blaugrana.
The 2004-born midfielder isn’t the archetypical silky and elegant technician that fans have grown used to at the Camp Nou. He has, however premature as they may be, rightly drawn comparisons to his Catalan predecessors in Xavi Henández and Andrés Iniesta, but Gavi possesses something that neither of these legendary maestros had, and something not often associated with the polished products of La Masia: A little bit of chaotic madness.
For a 17 year-old playing his first season of senior football, discipline isn’t something that’s likely to hinder his chances of game time, but Gavi is averaging a foul every 43 minutes at present and that youthful recklessness eventually will have to be reigned in. But it’s also a lot to do with what makes him great.
Gavi is an agile and hard-working central midfielder with a fantastic engine. He’s quick and tricky, capable of covering a lot of ground in very little time and maintains a high level of intensity throughout his performances.
Thus far, Gavi has predominantly been deployed as part of a central duo, but has the capability of slotting into any position through the spine of the now-departed Ronald Koeman’s typical 4-3-3 formation. He’s already an accomplished distributor and excels at progressing the ball from a deeper position, driving into the final third to create chances for the forward players.
As expected with any La Masia-educated youngster, Gavi’s deep understanding of the Barcelona philosophy means his positional intelligence is one of many standout attributes. His movement to occupy intricate pockets of space has become a real difference-maker for his side’s ability to keep the ball moving and provide an extra element of freedom for those around him.
His natural interpretation of how football should be played hasn’t helped dampen the comparisons to Xavi and Iniesta, either. An almost telepathic ability to anticipate the trajectory of the ball and very delicate, perfectly-weighted touches allow him to glide up and down the middle of the pitch, maintaining a heavy involvement in the build-up play, but also providing an extra little cushion of defensive cover should Sergio Busquets get caught out ahead of the back four.
It’s not just Barcelona that have opened the door to the 17 year-old this season. Despite only playing in 3 first team games, Spain coach Luis Enrique called Gavi into the senior national team at the beginning of October and threw him straight into the fire against Italy at the San Siro. But instead of burning, he flourished, becoming the youngest player to ever lace them up for the Spanish national team at just 17 year and 62 days old, a record previously set by Athletic Club’s Ángel Zubieta in the 1930s.
The 2-1 victory also signified the end of a 50 year winless run for La Roja on Italian soil, with Gavi playing a prominent role in the demise of the European champions. That aforementioned toughness and combativeness Gavi plays with made him the perfect sparring partner for the Italians. His temperament and grit guaranteed he would give as good as he got and alongside Atlético Madrid captain Koke, kept Roberto Mancini’s Euro-winning midfield trio in check.
Despite his seemingly non-existent ceiling as a player, Gavi isn’t yet the well-rounded end product. And that’s ok. He’s fiery and at times loses control of himself within the flow of the game. He needs to be reigned and reminded that the season is a marathon and not a sprint. But you’d be a fool to believe that burning desire to win at all costs will be dimmed in any way.
Gavi’s emergence has been a blessing to Joan Laporta’s new-era administration in the midst of arguably the most notorious and rocky transition periods in Barcelona’s long and storied history. He, alongside the likes of Ansu Fati, Nico, Pedri and the remaining cohort of talented youngsters being thrust into the heavily depleted first-team, signifies a very bright light at the end of a long and winding tunnel in Catalonia.