Lamine Yamal, the Spanish 'genius' who keeps rewriting history

 

Lamine Yamal of FC Barcelona
Lamine Yamal of FC Barcelona celebrates 1-0 during the LaLiga EA Sports match between FC Barcelona v Real Mallorca at the Lluis Companys Olympic Stadium on March 8, 2024 in Barcelona Spain.

It seemed fitting that in a season where Lamine Yamal has been setting new records for precociousness almost by the week that he would leave an indelible mark on Euro 2024.


Already the youngest player since Pele in 1958 to appear in the semi-final of a major men's tournament, Yamal further etched his name in history with a goal so sublime in its execution that it topped all other accomplishments in a fledgling but so far meteoric career.


Yamal's benchmarks even before he turns 17 would be enough to define many a career. Already the youngest Barcelona debutant since the 1940s, at 15; the club’s youngest ever goalscorer, at 16 and two months; Spain's youngest goalscorer, age 16 years and 57 days. He became the youngest to appear at a Euros earlier in the tournament, against Croatia, and his goal in Spain's 2-1 semi-final win over France makes him the youngest scorer in tournament history, age 16 years and 361 days.


The feint to steal half a yard on Adrien Rabiot before uncorking a left-foot shot past Mike Maignan in the French goal was "genius", as described by Spain manager Luis de la Fuente. It was reminiscent of a goal Yamal scored against the same opponent at the same stage of the Under-17 European Championship in 2023.


Yamal's goal was the exclamation mark on a first half where he really came of age. There are few finer sights in football than a shot, hit from range, with just enough elevation to beat the despairing dive of a goalkeeper and just the right accuracy to cannon in off the post. Yamal's effort was hit with all the nonchalance of a teenager asked to tidy up his bedroom.

To focus only on his goal would do him a huge disservice. Yamal's weight and accuracy of passing was right out of the Xavi and Iniesta playbook, his spatial awareness to move in from the right flank had an indirect hand in Spain's second goal and his willingness to show for the ball even after a crunching Theo Hernandez tackle shows he has mettle as well as majesty.


His involvement in Dani Olmo's goal four minutes after his own highlights all three. Yamal's contribution to Spain's winner was less tangible than his own strike but still telling. By moving to a more central position to join in the build up, Jesus Navas was encouraged to push up into the space vacated by Yamal on the right. Navas' cross caused confusion in the French ranks, allowing Olmo to conjure up his own magical moment with what proved the winner.


If Yamal's appearances at these Euros so far had merely teased at what was to come, then Wednesday's performance in Munich shattered any illusions that the Spanish wunderkind is destined for anything other than greatness.


"He's a player we have to take care of – I have to give him the advice to keep working with the same humility and keep his feet on the floor," said De la Fuente.


"He would keep growing but this maturity and attitude at such a young age is like that of a more experienced player.


"We are lucky he is Spanish and we can enjoy him for many more years."

De la Fuente handed Yamal his Spain debut, against Georgia last year, largely because Morocco, with whom Yamal was also eligible to represent through his father, had sounded out the prodigy about choosing the Atlas Lions over Spain. Yamal, who was born and raised on Catalonia’s Maresme coast, also had a third option, Equatorial Guinea, the country of his mother's birth, but De la Fuente's foresight had its own hint of genius, and he is sure to hand Yamal many more Spain caps – 13 and counting – over the coming years.


With Kylian Mbappe, whose mother is of Algerian descent, and Ousmane Dembele, the son of a Mauritanian-Senegalese parent, now out of the Euros, it leaves Yamal as the sole player of Arab origin in the tournament.


Yamal will turn 17 on Saturday, a day before the final where Spain meet either Netherlands or England, who face off in Wednesday's second semi-final.


"We've been talking about Lamine but I have 26 great players," continued De la Fuente.


"I know [Olmo] very well and the potential he has ... I am grateful to him too."


Striker and captain Alvaro Morata was involved in an unfortunate incident after the game during celebrations, when a stadium worker appeared to crash into him.


"He had a blow that hurt him, but it seems like it will be nothing," said De la Fuente, who also defended Morata against criticism in Spain from recent days.


"On and off the pitch, there's not many like that, giving us what we need, sacrificing himself, and then in the dressing room, is where he really shows the greatness he has, an exceptional human.


"He needs to be remembered as one of the Spanish football greats."


While De la Fuente is keen to highlight the collective, it seems inevitable others will focus on the individual, with Lamine Yamal, the Barcelona boy who only just recently passed his high-school exams, one game way from football immortality.

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