Lamine Yamal may only be 16, but after a breakout season in La Liga, he has the ability to take this summer’s tournament by storm.

Yamal Can Define A Generation - The Euros Will Show Why
Yamal

Lamine Yamal has described himself as “mischievous.”

It is perhaps the perfect word for this nuisance of a footballer.

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A tricky winger, compared often to Lionel Messi, but stylistically similar to Bukayo Saka, the teenager has established himself as one of the best talents in Europe over the course of the past 12 months.

Everyone has seen it.

Former Barcelona manager Xavi said Yamal could “define an era” in Catalunya.

David Villa earmarked him as a top talent, while Dani Carvajal remarked that he is almost impossible to defend.

There was a sense all throughout the 2023-24 season, as Barcelona struggled their way through a torrid campaign, that Yamal was special.

At times, the 16-year-old starlet was the only reason to tune in and watch the Blaugrana – such was the lack of quality in their play.

Attention now turns to the stage where the youngster could make his biggest impact yet.

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Luis de la Fuente has made it clear that Yamal will be an important player Spain this summer, and he will certainly be in the XI when La Roja play Croatia to open their Euro 2024 campaign on Saturday.

As long as Yamal is on the pitch, Spain, a footballing nation in dire need of an attacking talent to get behind, will feel like they have a chance.

Barca Beginnings

Yamal’s promise isn’t hard to trace.

The winger was marked as a top talent early on within La Masia, and he was training with the first team at 15 before making his debut at the same age.

In an ideal world, the teenager probably wouldn’t have played much for Barca during the past season.

But a Messi-esque cameo in the Joan Gamper Trophy in early August forced him into the picture.

By November, Yamal was a regular, and by January, he was indispensable.

His stats – seven goals and 10 assists in all competitions – make for encouraging reading, but his impact expands further than that.

Yamal spent most of his time in isolation, running at defenders and carving out opportunities for others.

Indeed, his impact is best encapsulated in his three successful take-ons per 90 minutes (among the top 10 percent in Europe), and three carries into the final third per 90 (among the top 15%).

Yamal is a player who is judged best by the eye test, taking in the directness and incisiveness of his dribbling, and the way in which he creates angles and passing lanes for others.

He popped up with some crucial goals, too, but given his age, it would be harsh for a team to pin too much on him too early.

Defining A Generation

For a Barca side that has struggled immensely over the last 10 months, Yamal could be the key to them re-establishing themselves among Europe’s elite.

Hansi Flick has taken over a squad that is almost split in two between ageing veterans and uber-talented youngsters.

Only a handful of his projected starters for next season are in what many would describe as their prime years.

But it is that growing young core which offers hope for the future.

In midfield, Gavi and Pedri are both 21 or younger, despite their immense experience at the top level already, while 21-year-old Fermin Lopez broke into the first team last season and has been rewarded with a place in the Spain squad this summer.

At centre-back, meanwhile, 17-year-old Pau Cubarsi showed for stretches that he can be the player Barca – and Spain – build their next great defence around.

Yamal, though, is the best of them all.

The Messi comparisons are both stylistically inaccurate and entirely unfair, but this is a footballer that Barca can truly rest their hopes on.

The talent is there, but Yamal has shown that he is mature enough, despite his age, to carry his ‘star power’.

He is a La Masia product, a Barcelona native who throws up his Catalan area code whenever he scores, but one who also has a massive shoe deal with adidas.

Yamal doesn’t just play football – he entertains while he does it.

Starring For Spain

It was no surprise that Spain came knocking for Yamal as soon as they possibly could.

This is a country who has shown little care in recent years for protecting its youth, and thus the youngster was thrust into action for La Roja in September 2023 as they looked to book their place at the Euros.

Yamal wasted little time in making his mark on the international game, as he netted on his debut against Georgia to add Spain’s youngest goal-scorer to his ever-growing list of records.

He then turned in an eye-catching hour against Cyprus in the 6-0 win that followed a few days later.

Manager Luis de la Fuente made little effort to hide his excitement about Yamal, saying:

“Do you remember when Messi or [Diego] Maradona were 16 years old?

“We should not put limits on these good footballers.

“We must let them develop all their potential.

“That’s what we’re trying to do with this player here and at his club.”

Yamal has since followed that up with a superb showing against Brazil in a friendly in March, and will be the youngest player at the Euros, with the next-oldest player (France’s Warren Zaire-Emery) 16 months his senior.

It’s easy to forget watching him play that Yamal is still just a child, though he offered a stark reminder of his age when speaking to AS ahead of the tournament.

“I’ve brought my homework because I’m in the fourth year of ESO (the last year of compulsory school study), I have classes on the web and I’m doing well; I hope the teacher doesn’t get mad at me!” he revealed.

Tiki-taka Troubles

Spain arrive at this tournament at an intriguing juncture, too.

Though they reached the semi-finals of the last Euros, that was sandwiched between two World Cup exits at the last-16 stage where they passed Russia and Morocco, respectively, to death, but lacked the cutting edge required to win the game.

In the end, they lost both times on penalties

This current Spain team has a lot to live up to, too.

That ‘tiki-taka’ generation that won three straight international tournaments from 2008-2012 is still in the public’s consciousness.

But those teams had strikers of the quality of Villa and Fernando Torres;

Spain have too often been reliant upon the forlorn figure of Alvaro Morata to put the ball in the net in more recent times.

And so while they remain the world-leaders in producing confident midfielders who can receive the ball in tight spaces, turn away from their markers and produce defence-splitting passes, La Roja need more up front if they are to once again challenge for trophies.

That is where Yamal comes in…

Providing Cutting Edge

Spain need some cutting edge up front; an incisive point of difference from their patient passing football.

Yamal has the ability to provide that, and ensure they are no longer regarded as being one-dimensional.

It has been suggested that he will even be joined in the line up by Nico Williams, with the Athletic Club winger no slouch either.

Even with Morata still leading the line, having forwards alongside who will stretch the pitch and take on full-backs should offer him more opportunities inside the penalty area.

Behind them, Spain are set up well.

Rodri is certainly the best holding midfielder out there, while Pedri, if fit, can pace an attack.

De La Fuente has already spoken of his desire to “play quicker football”, and all signs are that he will get his wish in Germany.

Start Of An Era

This is only the beginning, too.

De La Fuente has penned a contract that will keep him in the job until after the 2026 World Cup.

This is still his first major tournament at the helm, but Spain’s success in wining the most recent Nations League, as well as encouraging friendly performances, suggest that they are moving in the right direction.

Youth figures to be at the centre of it all, with the manager willing to ditch some of the old heads, while allowing the next crop of talented youngsters do their thing.

Read More: Ronaldo Sets Portugal Ambitious Target For Euro 2024

There is always a risk with Spain; they tend to bed their best players in too early.

But in Yamal, at this Euros, they have a player who is too good to keep on the bench.

Now those outside of Spain will get to see just why he is being tipped to join the pantheon of game-changing superstars.

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