Meet Lamine Yamal, the 16-year-old Spain and FC Barcelona are betting their futures on

Meet Lamine Yamal, the 16-year-old Spain and FC Barcelona are betting their futures on

These are unusual and fast-evolving times in international soccer, but is there anything more eye-opening right now than how the most talked-about player in the sport over the past few weeks is just 16 years old?

Lamine Yamal has occupied more of the spotlight since Barcelona’s El Clásico defeat to Real Madrid than some players find over the course of their career.

And yet, like with everything else the boy wonder of Spanish soccer does, he seems to be handling it effortlessly and in stride, just as is the case when he is running with the ball at his feet.

Yamal’s been pretty busy. On April 21, he “scored” what would have been the most famous goal of his fledgling career by appearing to touch the ball over the line in Madrid’s Santiago Bernabéu.

What quickly became known as the “ghost goal” was disallowed, becoming one of the most notorious modern incidents in Spain’s most historic rivalry. Barcelona club president Joan Laporta, just as incensed at the team’s fan base after multiple (and eventually deceptive) angles seemed to indicate the goal should have stood, threatened to launch legal action to overturn the result.

Laporta’s outburst was probably just posturing, though the decision of La Liga chiefs to still avoid goal-line technology boggles the mind, and in any case, subsequent high-tech analysis suggested the camera angles created an incorrect illusion.

However, it was merely the latest example of Yamal being seemingly central to every current discussion, with him also wrapped up in another controversy as well as growing rumblings of a potential transfer that would test the current world record fee.

Unless Spain makes it to the final of the Euros this summer, all of Yamal’s games at the tournament will come before his 17th birthday. Such has been his rapid development, that it is a widely held belief that for Spain to get that far, it will need him to shine.

“There are footballers who knock down the door before others,” Spain head coach Luis de la Fuente told reporters in October. “Remember when (Lionel) Messi or (Diego) Maradona played when they were 16? Now it seems sacrilegious to debate whether they should play when they are 16 years old. 

“You don’t have to set limits for players like that.”

Teenagers thriving on soccer’s biggest stages isn’t entirely unprecedented. As de la Fuente noted, Messi and Maradona’s youthful brilliance became part of soccer folklore, and remains so.

At the 2004 Euros, Wayne Rooney proved to be mostly unstoppable for opposition defenses despite being only 17, and if he had not been injured early in the quarterfinal, many believe England may have won that tournament.

Yamal’s progress has shown little regard for convention, or for the record books.

He holds the record as La Liga’s youngest ever goalscorer, Barcelona’s youngest ever first team player and also its youngest starter. He is the youngest man ever to play, and to score, for Spain, and broke Gareth Bale’s mark as the youngest to score in Euros qualifying. 

He’s doing things at a truly elite level, for one of the very best teams in the world, and this summer will be arguably the first or second most important player on a national team that’s fourth-favorite to win the Euros. 

Again, he’s 16 years old.

A stunning rise at this age is a phenomenon largely unknown in American sports, except in extremely rare cases. Kobe Bryant and LeBron James were both much talked about as teenagers; James fronted Sports Illustrated’s cover at 16, while Bryant took pop star Brandy Norwood to his high school prom.

But that hype was largely on account of what they would deliver in the future rather than what they were accomplishing in the moment.

Yamal was thrown into the viper’s nest of La Liga before he even touched 16, his debut for Barça came at 15 years, nine months and 16 days, and has thrived beyond anyone’s realistic expectations.

The next part of the Yamal chatterverse has centered around a heated discussion in Spain about how he is to be best used this summer. Originally, a spot on the Olympic Games roster looked to be a fine option, with that tournament predominantly restricted to players aged 23 or younger. 

However, Yamal’s performances for the full senior national team dictate that not only will he go to the Euros, but will be a key part of the action. When it was mooted that he could do both the Euros and the Olympics, with the Games scheduled for August, shouts of condemnation about potential overuse were swiftly heard.

“It would be a big mistake to call up any players for both competitions,” former Barcelona teenage star Bojan Krkic told Sport. “There are many people in many areas who have to understand they are children, players who are developing, and what we have to do is try to let them be able to play in many European Championships and Olympic Games (in the future).”

Barcelona midfield sensation Pedri was just 18 three years ago when he took part in the Olympics just two weeks after being named young player of the tournament at the Euros, then suffered nagging injury problems in the seasons since.

Recent reports in Spain indicate that an agreement between Barcelona where Yamal and 17-year-old teammate Pau Cubarsi would be spared Olympic duty, is near to being finalized.

Yamal’s ability is such that the thought of Barca selling him would be unthinkable under usual circumstances. However, the club’s perilous financial situation has sparked rumors that money-laden Paris St. Germain could make an approach in excess of the $248 million it paid for Neymar in 2017.

What a whirlwind Yamal suddenly finds himself in, talk of such figures and seven million followers on Instagram before he is even old enough to appear of the FIFA 24 video game.

Accoding to Spanish AS Diario, Lamal’s agent Jorge Mendes, who has a healthy working relationship with PSG after several interactions over the years, had told the French club that however desperate Barca’s monetary plight became, parting with Lamal would only be exercised as the ultimate last resort.

No wonder. 

Forget the age, soccer has a new superstar, capable of inspiration amid whatever new challenge crosses his path. 

He can’t seem to avoid the headlines, but none of the fuss seems to bother him. Whether that’s in spite of being just 16, or perhaps because of it – who knows? 

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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About the Author

Marie Maynes
Marie Maynes is a Sports enthusiast and writes for the Sports section of ANH.