On October 6th 2021, just 62 days after his 17th birthday, Pablo Martín Páez Gavira made history. By starting in the Spanish national team’s UEFA Nations League semi-final against Italy, the midfielder better known as Gavi became the youngest ever player to feature for his country’s senior side. It was a shock when Luis Enrique called Gavi up to the squad and it was a shock when he started the match, but the teenager performed like a veteran in the 83 minutes he played at the San Siro, as La Roja defeated Gli Azzurri 2-1 on Italian soil.
At that point, the 17-year-old had only ever made seven official appearances for FC Barcelona’s first team, yet Luis Enrique saw the potential that has struck all of Gavi’s coaches over the years. He may be young and he may be small, but Gavi makes up for his lack of experience and his lack of size through his innate feel for the beautiful game.
That understanding of the sport is partly natural and partly taught. Born in the province of Seville, Gavi has always stood out among his peers and, as he was growing up, he was nicknamed Oliver Atom after the star player of the Captain Tsubasa manga series. Those natural skills saw him join the Real Betis academy and then, at the age of 11, move to Catalonia to enter FC Barcelona’s prestigious La Masia school. There, he often played with footballers older than he was and he always held his own, learning how to use his talents in the most effective way.
That prepared him for his early ascent to senior football, first competing against full-grown adults when he made his debut for Barcelona B on February 21st 2021 at 16 years and 200 days of age. Later that year, Ronald Koeman trusted Gavi enough to give the youngster his debut with the Blaugrana first team, on August 29th 2021 against Getafe CF in LaLiga Santander, when the midfielder was still only 17 years and 25 days old.
Immediately, Gavi looked like he belonged in LaLiga Santander. He looked like he’d been playing for the FC Barcelona first team for years. In the 2021/22 season, he has made 35 total appearances, the fifth-most of all players in the Barça squad. Only Sergio Busquets, Marc-André ter Stegen, Frenkie de Jong and Gerard Piqué have been chosen more frequently by Koeman and then Xavi than Gavi, underscoring the high regard that exists at the Camp Nou for the teenager’s abilities.
Able to play either side of a midfield three, or even as a left winger, Gavi has become a very useful player for FC Barcelona. Whether he starts or comes off the bench, he always gives his all and, despite his small frame, he is able to shrug off defenders as he dribbles his way through the lines, always seeking a killer pass.
Alongside fellow youngsters such as Pedri, Nico González, Eric García, Sergiño Dest and Ansu Fati, Gavi is one of the many impressive players aged 21 or younger in the current FC Barcelona squad. Their future is bright with players like Gavi, while these players can all perform in the present too.