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Spain’s desire to call up Barcelona teenager Ansu Fati for next month’s Under-17 World Cup has not gone down well with the Catalan club with manager Ernesto Valverde saying it would be a “setback” at this time.
Ansu, 16, has been one of the stars of Barca’s season so far. He became their youngest ever goalscorer in La Liga last month against Osasuna and the youngest ever player to debut in the Champions League for the club against Borussia Dortmund this week.
However, the Spanish champions could be without Ansu for up to five weeks if, as expected, he is included in Spain’s squad for the upcoming World Cup, which starts on Oct. 26 and runs until Nov. 17.
“He’s still not been called up so we will see what happens. But it would be a setback because he’s a player who’s just coming into the first team and we don’t know what will happen in that run of games [in October and November],” Valverde said in news conference. “If it would have been now, with players missing, it would be a bigger setback. But we’re going to be cautious until the final squad is announced.”
Valverde wants the player, who began preseason with Victor Valdes’ U19 team, to train with the first team for the whole season, although there could still be times when he plays for the B team in the Spanish third division.
Ansu was born in Guinea-Bissau but moved to Seville when he was six. He has never represented any country at youth level.
Steps have now been taken to nationalise him following his brilliant start to the campaign. A RFEF spokesman confirmed to ESPN FC earlier this week they were pursuing the necessary paperwork for him to obtain a Spanish passport. And on Friday, the Spanish cabinet approved a decree to grant Fati Spanish citizenship after a petition put forward by the RFEF which had the backing of the Spanish Sports Council (CSD).
The player has lived in Spain since 2009, where he has completed his studies and his sporting formation. Hence, he has completed the required 10 years of residency in order to obtain Spanish citizenship through naturalisation.
Spain U17 coach David Gordo also revealed that he hopes to have Ansu available for the World Cup, and that the forward was keen to represent La Roja. The 16-year-old is also eligible for Portugal and Guinea-Bissau.
Spain’s first game at the tournament is against Argentina on Oct. 28, but there will also be travelling and training time before then. If Spain progress in the competition, Ansu would be away from Barcelona until towards the end of November.
Sources at Barcelona say that “removing him from the first team for that amount of time could be prejudicial,” pointing out that Ansu could miss as many as seven Barcelona first-team games if Spain progress.
Ansu made his debut for Barca against Real Betis off the bench in August and scored against Osasuna as a substitute the following week. He made his first start against Valencia last weekend, scoring and assisting, before playing an hour in Tuesday’s goalless draw at Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.
In other squad news, Valverde said he is hopeful Ousmane Dembele will return to full training soon and could compete with Ansu for playing time.
“He has not done a full session with the group but we expect that he will [on Friday],” Valverde said. ” When he’s back, we want him to be involved, to try and win his place in the team, to keep his place.
“We will see if he takes [Ansu’s] place in the team. They’ve not trained or played together, we will see with time. We will see what’s the right balance between attack and defence.”