When FC Barcelona arrive at the Estadio Benito Villamarín for their LaLiga Santander encounter with Real Betis this Wednesday night, it’ll be an extra special experience for one player in particular. Pablo Martín Páez Gavira, better known as Gavi, is now a regular starter for Barça despite being just 18 years of age, but he was in the Real Betis academy just seven years ago.
He may be young and he may be small, but Gavi is the most recent winner of the Golden Boy and Kopa Trophy awards and he 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 has 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 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 FC Barcelona’s first team for years. 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.
This has made him a regular starter for the Catalan club and also for the Spanish national team. On October 6th 2021, just 62 days after his 17th birthday, he made history. By starting in the Spanish national team’s UEFA Nations League semi-final against Italy, the midfielder became the youngest-ever player to feature for his country’s senior side.
He has already played 17 games for La Roja and scored three goals, one of them against Costa Rica in the 2022 World Cup. By netting aged just 18 years and 110 days old, he became the youngest goalscorer in the history of the World Cup since Pelé 64 years earlier.
Despite this almost unprecedented rapid rise, Gavi remains humble and always recalls his origins and his time coming through at Real Betis’ academy. As he explained in a recent interview with the Spanish newspaper MARCA: “I try to be myself, nothing more than that. Everything has gone very fast and things have happened to me that I couldn’t have imagined. But, I have a lot of people close to me who help me. I know where I am, who I am and where I come from.”