‘Logic-defying’ Yamal: The story of Spain’s Euro 2024 sensation

Yamal’s ‘gigantic step’ at La Masia

Before he was fast-tracked into Barcelona’s first team and the Spanish national side, Yamal had to conquer the jump from cadete to juvenil in the club’s La Masia academy.

“A gigantic step,” is how Oscar Lopez, a former Barcelona player himself who has spent the last three years as coach of Barcelona’s Juvenil A side, or U19s, puts it to Sky Sports.

Yamal, a Barcelona player since he was seven, had already been identified as a rising star. But at 15, and already playing up an age group, much would depend on how he handled his promotion from the U16s to the U19s at the start of the 2022/23 season.

Lamine Yamal with Oscar Lopez while they worked together at Barcelona

Lamine Yamal with Oscar Lopez while they worked together at Barcelona

“That year was a very good process that I had to take him through in terms of acclimatisation to the age group, to the level, to the demands,” says Lopez.

“Because it’s not the same playing as a cadete for the U16s, even if you are playing up a year, as he was, to being 15 years old and playing against boys of 20 in the UEFA Youth League.

“So, we had to do a process of adaptation with him in which he saw that everything is progressive and has its evolution, and that he needed time to acclimatise, even though he had that innate talent that he is demonstrating right now at the Euros.”

Yamal had breezed through every age group to that point in La Masia.

This time, it was different.

“The process covered many different aspects, mentally, emotionally and physically,” adds Lopez. “He was a 15-year-old boy playing against boys five years older.

“On an emotional level, all of that could have broken him.”

It didn’t, of course. In fact, it made him stronger. But Yamal received no special treatment from Lopez, who was tasked with ensuring he produced application to match his talent.

“On the pitch, he progressively got more minutes, but that was a result of having to work hard, not because he was 15 and everyone was saying he was a very good player,” explains Lopez. “He had to earn those minutes.

“So, for a couple of months, he was coming in, he was working, he was training, he was getting his minutes. But he was also seeing that he was just another player in a squad where there were kids who were three or four years older than him.

“He was seeing that he had to wake up, liven himself up and make a real effort to earning a starting spot. He was showing his talent but, little by little, he was also gaining that ability to overcome, to grow, and to improve the innate ability that he had.”

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