Lamine Yamal: The 16-Year-Old Who Silenced His Doubters and Made Football Feel Alive

In an alternate universe, Lamine Yamal should have been finishing up his supper while sitting in front of his TV, getting ready to watch the semifinal of the European Championships. And then, as any other 16-year-old would normally do, proceed to worry about homework and what’s in store at school the next day. Instead, at the full-time whistle, Yamal was shouting into the camera after yet another prodigious night. Talk now. Talk now.

Yamal, the schoolboy who had carried his homework to Germany, was out there at the Allianz Arena, in front of over 75,000 fans, against the World Cup finalist, France. He was silencing his doubters after scoring a left-footed strike, which was out of the world. Lamine Yamal makes it 1️⃣-1️⃣ for Spain with a WORLDIE against France 🚀 Watch the teenager light up the big stage now, on the 📺 | The goal had been coming. He has been threatening to do this the whole tournament. The youngest-ever footballer to play in a European Championship, was waiting for that goal to make him the competition’s youngest to do so. He had struck the bar, and put it narrowly wide from close range, all while he had already registered two assists. But some would say this moment was his destiny for nearly 17 years.

Yamal’s father, Mounir Nasraoui, recently, shared a “The beginning of two legends,” said Nasraoui. It’s an odd photoshoot with an awkward Messi giving a bath to a six-month-old Yamal, who is in a plastic bathtub. It’s been well-documented what happened to the long-haired Messi since, and it seems Yamal, too, was bound for something special. For several years, a question often popped up from Spain: “What if Messi played for Spain and not Argentina?”. The thought was that Messi, who had dual nationality and made his career in Barcelona, would have fit right into because of the football identity shared between Barcelona and the Spanish national team. That pipedream never came to fruition but with Yamal, Spain might have its own version of Messi.

Yamal has followed in the footsteps of Messi but has only bettered it thus far. Six years after that photoshoot, Yamal moved to Barcelona and joined La Masia. He was fast-tracked to the Barcelona Juvenil team at just 15 when Xavi called him to the first-team training in September 2022. A first team debut followed in April 2023, when he was just 15 years, nine months and 16 days, making him the youngest to play in a Blaugrana shirt in over 100 years after Armando Sagi. His impressive run led to his first Spain cap at 16 years and 57 days, last year. He scored on his record-breaking debut against Georgia in 2023, after coming on as a substitute. “Already on the television he looked great, but working with him, he seems even better,” remarked Spain coach Luis de la Fuente, earmarking the wiry teenager, who has his braces on and his teeth still falling out, to be an ‘important player’ for the national team.

So, for his first European Championship goal, he chose the semifinal as his setting: the day he broke Pele’s record to become the youngest player to play in a major tournament semifinal. It was his last game before he turned 17. This was also the game Yamal was against Kylian Mbappe, widely considered the best player in Europe, running at him in the same flank. And Spain was trailing by a goal to France after the eighth minute. Thirteen minutes later, the ball broke to Yamal, 30 yards outside the goal. Yamal took a glance inside before looking to run on the outside with a touch, pulling his marker in front of him along, before he dropped his shoulder and turned goal side again with a single touch. The feign and the touch took his marker out of play, opening a huge space in front of him, 25 yards from goal. Spain’s Lamine Yamal hits the shot which eventually results in his side’s first goal during the Euro 2024 semifinal against France in Munich on Tuesday.| Photo Credit:AP He then whipped in a left-footed strike, like a golf swing coming down and following through with the ball having the right pace, curl and placement behind it to strike the top left post and crash into the net. It was an outrageous goal for a semifinal of a major international football tournament, let alone coming from the boot of a 16-year-old. The xG for the shot was 0.032, but he’s too young to probably know what an xG is. All he saw was what he was capable of.

“What I am amazed about is his clarity for such a young age,” said Patrice Evra. “When he has to shoot, when he has to pass. He has the personality and the character.” De la Fuente called it a “touch of genius.” The French fan, behind Mike Maignan’s goal, who put his hands to his head, knew it even before the ball hit the net. Mbappe acknowledged it, too, by offering a shrug with his lips. He also made Adrien Rabiot eat his words. In the build-up, Rabiot had taunted Yamal, 13 years his junior. Rabiot was trying to play down the teenager’s hype, talking up the semifinal stage, stating “To play in a Euro final, he will have to do much more than what he has done so far.” Rabiot saw his pre-match barb backfire spectacularly as he was Yamal’s marker, falling for the feign and watching Yamal’s strike float into the net. Yamal answered with his feet: “Talk now, Rabiot.”

The goal sent France into a state of shock; never really fully recovered from it. For all the control and possession, Spain only had two shots on target in the game and scored from both. A classic quick one-two punch with Dani Olmo following up on Yamal’s wondergoal. Some time ago, Real Madrid president Florentino Perez argued against 90-minute games of football, saying that children aged 16-24 are not into football anymore. “We have to change something if we want football to stay alive.” It was fitting then that it was a 16-year-old Yamal, in that moment at the Allianz Arena, who made football feel alive.

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