Demir, Gavi and Nico: Barcelona’s New Hope
It has been a turbulent summer at the Camp Nou, following the departures of Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann. Many are looking to what the future holds for one of the greatest clubs in Europe.
Fans of Barcelona have had to wait for one of their brightest talents return to the fold, with Ansu Fati out since November 2020. The young Spaniard’s performances prior to his injury showed maturity and a much-needed freshness in the squad.
In his absence, Pedri also gave Barcelona an exciting feel in an otherwise disappointing season last time out. His skill and desire gained many plaudits as he became one of Barcelona’s few ‘untouchables’ entering the summer window. However, with Ansu still recovering, now back in training, and Pedri out injured with a muscle strain, it is time for new leaders at Barcelona.
The three chosen to spearhead this new wave of talent at the club are Yusuf Demir, Pablo Martín Páez Gavira, better known as ‘Gavi’, and Nico González. All three have been named in Ronald Koeman’s Champions League squad for the 2021/22 season. In their group stage opener, which saw Bayern Munich beat Barcelona at the Camp Nou, Gavi and Demir were brought on off the bench.
This is just the most recent showing of Ronald Koeman’s faith in the three youngsters, with Nico also featuring in the league on several occasions thus far. If they are to keep getting their opportunities, there is no telling what level these three players can reach in a Barcelona shirt.
Alongside analysis of the three in the article, we’ll also get the insight of our resident Barcelona fan, Román de Arquer, who will give us his view on these individual talents to determine whether they are more hype than hope.
“Today he is the greatest promise of Austrian football, there is no doubt about that,” is how Austrian manager Franco Foda described Yusuf Demir. The Vienna-born 18-year-old rose to prominence with Rapid Wien, making his professional debut with the side in December 2019.
Since then, the winger has been touted as a potential star in Austria, especially when scoring in the UEFA Champions League against Gent in September 2020. That goal made him the youngest Austrian scorer in the competition since Gerd Wimmer in 1994, aged 17 years, three months and 13 days.
Just under a year later, Barcelona came in for him, agreeing to sign him on a season-long loan with an option to make the move permanent for €10 million in July 2022. At the time of his signing, he was a relatively unknown name to the fanbase, until the young Austrian made his debut on Matchday 2 against Athletic Club. In the game, he came on for Martin Braithwaite just after the hour mark and became the youngest foreign debutant since Messi in 2004; another record broken.
"It's an honour for me to play for this beautiful club. It feels like a kid's dream come true. I worked really hard to reach this stage and I'm really happy to make my debut" he told Barça TV. During the game, once he had settled, he looked to have good vision and the ability to win a foul up the field.
He is some way off the finished article, but seems to have Koeman’s backing. After all, he has been entrusted with the no.11 shirt, formerly of Ousmane Dembélé. Internationally he already has two full caps for Austria and will certainly be adding to them for many years.
Román’s take: "The quality is undoubtedly there, that's why he's been promoted directly to the first team despite the original plan of playing him with the B team. In pre-season he's impressed with his dribbling abilities and audacity; always looking to push forward and to become a threat in attack. With no Messi or Griezmann, and Dembélé currently injured, he has a great opportunity to prove himself and stand out at Barça."
Another debutant this season at Camp Nou is Pablo Martín Páez Gavira, known as Gavi. He signed for the club aged 11, joining from Real Betis. The Sevillian playmaker plays either in attacking midfield or on the left wing and was promoted to the first team by Koeman following success for Barcelona’s youth side.
Just weeks after his 17th birthday, he debuted on Matchday 3 in a 2-1 win over Getafe at home. Having broken his jaw against RB Salzburg during pre-season, Gavi wore a protective mask whilst playing. Despite this injury, it did not affect his confidence, as he drove confidently at the Getafe defence and soaked up pressure in the attacking half, allowing the side to see out the result. Like Demir, he looked a ‘street-smart’ player who could win fouls, choose the right pass and do so in an elegant manner.
“I’m the happiest kid in the world. It’s a dream come true. A thousand things went through my head and I was a bit nervous as I was warming up, but I went out to give it the max. I remember all the coaches I've had and how they helped me to develop,” Gavi said as he already looked to understand the importance of playing for Barcelona and what it means to represent the club when during his post-match interview with Barça TV.
“I have been very happy with him from the very first day. It was a difficult game, but going on for a game like that was very important,” Koeman added, being quick to compliment Gavi’s performance.
If given the opportunity, Gavi will certainly back himself to improve under Koeman. The main concern that he might have will be the depth Barcelona boasts in midfield and attack. His inclusion in the club's Champions League squad suggests that the chances will come, even if it’s on a rotational basis, he will be able to learn and improve.
Román’s take: "There's a reason he's become the fourth youngest player to debut for the first team, behind the likes of Ansu Fati and Bojan Krkić. He possesses massive talent, playing with incredible maturity, as if he'd been in the top flight for years. Physically he reminds me a bit of Riqui Puig, when he drives with the ball, it’s Denis Suárez who comes to mind, and he has a similar temperament to Andrés Iniesta. But comparisons aside, Gavi has the potential to forge his own path at Camp Nou."
Son of Deportivo legend and Spanish international, Fran González, Nico is looking to follow in his father’s footsteps and make a name for himself in LaLiga. The defensive midfielder is already being suggested as a potential successor to Sergio Busquets, quite the compliment.
Born and raised in A Coruña, Nico joined Barcelona in 2013 and has risen through the youth divisions and impressed at every level. The 19-year-old is now looking to make in-roads into the first team and provide cover this season.
After debuting against Real Sociedad, Nico featured a second time against Getafe. In those first two appearances he looked strong in his challenges, his bite and eagerness saw him pick up a yellow card against Real Sociedad, a toughness this current Barcelona side could do with. He also looked calm on the ball and clearly had good vision to pick out a pass.
“Yes, it was very emotional. It’s a stadium that impresses and motivates a lot. I couldn’t wait to play there. I’ve spent my whole life wanting to play there, I’ve seen my teammates play there as well, so I couldn’t wait, it was a beautiful experience for me,” Nico said to the club website after debuting against Real Sociedad.
Back in May 2021, Nico was given a new contract that included a release clause of €500 million. Now Barcelona fans will be excited to watch him regularly and see why he is so highly valued by the club. One thing is for certain, if he is to attempt to emulate his father’s 550 appearances for Dépor and 16 caps for Spain, he will have to start playing regularly for Barcelona.
Román’s take: "He seems like the natural replacement for Busquets, although there's still a lot to improve before he can really be compared to Sergi. Nico has great ball control and vision, although he possibly doesn't have the same quick feet Busi displays, especially with the one-touch passes. It's also worth pointing out Nico not only provides in defence with his interceptions and work rate, but also in offensive terms, given he likes to push forward and dribble with the ball when spaces open up in the midfield."
In keeping with tradition at Barcelona, these three players follow some of the game’s greatest talents: Messi, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, and many more. There is a long way to go before we can say if the trio have had a successful career and emulated the greats that came before them at Barcelona. For now, they all have a great opportunity to make the most of the trust that Koeman has in them.
In speaking to talent alone, they all look more than capable to play a part in this season and improve the side in certain areas. However, given the fact that they have not played consistently, perhaps next season will be the time for them to play regularly, making this campaign a transitional period for the three.
After a summer of exodus at Barcelona, fans like Román will be quietly optimistic that they will be the drivers of change at Camp Nou and able to begin laying the foundations of a new epoch in Catalonia, one of hope.
To track the development of these three superstars and the rest of LaLiga's young talent, check us out on Twitter at @LaLigaLowdown.