An athlete’s worst nightmare is injury and Barcelona starlet Ansu Fati can’t seem to wake up from his.
The dream he was living at Barcelona, becoming the club’s youngest goalscorer in La Liga and the youngest ever player to net in the Champions League, among other records, has been ravaged by physical problems.
Ansu was only able to play 10 games last season and has featured in the same number so far in this campaign.
The 19-year-old insists he will return stronger from his latest setback, a relapse of a hamstring injury, but if he decides to undergo surgery, he will effectively have spent the best part of two seasons on the sidelines.
These years are vital for his development, and his tears when he went off against Athletic Club in the Copa del Rey last week showed how painful it is for him psychologically to endure another lay-off, just after fighting his way back onto the pitch.
“Unfortunately, I am having to live through the worst part of football, but I will never give up!” wrote Ansu on Instagram, ahead of his camp’s meeting with Barcelona on Monday to discuss the best course of action.
Barca’s medical staff say Ansu should have an operation on his hamstring, which he first injured in November against Celta Vigoand then again last Thursday against Athletic in the Copa del Rey.
However, Ansu and his people are reportedly unsure, and have considered a conservative treatment for the injury that would allow him to get back on the pitch sooner, albeit with a higher risk of relapse.
The player met with Barcelona on Monday but there was no resolution announced.
Ansu’s injury problems began last season when he suffered a meniscus injury against Real Betis.
He had surgery on his knee but, although the procedure was completed successfully, the expected four-month recovery period ended up becoming 10 because of complications that led to further operations.
Given this frustrating experience, and with a World Cup coming up later this year, Ansu has reason to consider avoiding going under the knife again.
Ansu’s own physio, Joaquin Juan, has recommended that he does not take the operation, according to The National. The meeting ended with the player asking for more time to make his choice of him, with an expected outcome soon.
However, Barcelona are afraid of it becoming a case that could end up like Samuel Umtiti’s.
The centre-back, one of the best in the world at the time, decided not to have surgery on an injury so that he could play in the 2018 World Cup with France.
“I had different opinions, a mess in my head, I didn’t know what decision to make,” Umtiti later admitted.
He lifted the World Cup in Russia that summer but has never been the same player since.
Barcelona are not pessimistic about Ansu’s future to that extent, but their medical team are nonetheless avoiding any chance of a repeat.
If Ansu follows their advice, his season would be over, but he could start from scratch for 2022-23 and then play his way back into contention for Qatar 2022.
Barca believe this is the most sensitive course of action as they do not believe that the youngster will be plagued by injuries forever.
After all, Lionel Messi had injury trouble in the early years of his career but later became impressively resistant to them.
Ansu has probably not been helped by circumstances either, with his relapse happening in a high-pressure knock-out game, in which he played longer than the 30 minutes recommended to Barcelona by the doctors, because it went to extra-time.
“We will now get an exhaustive and specific plan in place to ensure that he never gets injured again,” pledged Xavi.
“We need him, we have lost an impressive footballer, so it affects us all, but most of all Ansu. We have to recover him mentally and make him forget about the injuries.”
Barcelona have not asked Ansu to adopt a special diet like Messi chose to do in his mid-20s – something he says helped end his own injury issues – although if problems persist, the club might look into it, along with optimizing any other external factors they can.
Ansu took Messi’s talismanic No.10 shirt and has been heralded the team’s next attacking starso the relentless injury problems are in danger of becoming too much to bear for the player and fans alike.
When he came back for the first time against Levante in September, he was given a hero’s welcome and scored to bring the house down at Camp Nou.
But it was a false dawn and has now been followed by another.
For a player this exciting, with so much potential, it’s not just Xavi but the football world as a whole hoping that there won’t be any more.