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FOOTBALL

Wonderkid Fati: From African suburb to Barcelona’s Camp Nou

Ansu Fati has made a long trip from the fields of Guinea-Bissau, where he played as a child, to Barcelona's Camp Nou stadium where the 16-year-old is playing with some of the biggest stars in the world.

Wonderkid Fati: From African suburb to Barcelona's Camp Nou

Fati's has made a stirring start to the season, scoring just two minutes into his full La Liga debut on a magical night when he hardly put a foot wrong in front of over 80,000 astonished Camp Nou fans who gave him a standing ovation as he left the field.

He was just seven years old when he first came to Spain and his startling talent meant he was invited to join Barcelona's prestigious youth academy 'La Masia' aged 10.

It was an incredible achievement for a boy from the impoverished West African nation that has never been known for football.   

In Sao Paulo, his home neighbourhood in the rundown suburbs of capital Bissau, the children yell “Ansu Fati, Barca player!” as they run around on ochre soil, under the tropical trees.

Malam Romisio, who coached Fati as a child, told AFP how the boy used to play football wearing only socks or plastic sandals, easily dribbling the ball past bigger, stronger teammates.

When Fati made his debut with Barca's first team at the end of August, the coach switched his allegiance from Real Madrid.   

“If he continues like this, he will be a great player,” he predicted.   

In Guinea Bissau, which is one of the world's poorest and most fragile nations, Fati is a source of national pride.

Born on October 31, 2002, he lived in Bissau until he was six.    

In the house where he grew up, Fati's uncle Djibi Fati shows photos of the footballer as a child, dressed in traditional clothes, recalling how others used to tease him for his love of bread and butter.

“Every time he came back from playing football, he would ask for it,” he recalls.

Family divided, reunited in Spain

When he was still very small, his father, Bori Fati, went to Portugal to look for work, later settling near Seville in southwestern Spain.   

Bori picked olives, collected empty glasses in nightclubs and even helped build a high-speed rail track, recalls Amador Saavedra, who befriended him in Herrera, some 100 kilometres (60 miles) north of Malaga.   

It was only when the Communist mayor of Marinaleda, a nearby town, hired Bori as a driver and helped him financially, that he managed to bring his young family over in 2009.

“It's a very beautiful story,” said Saavedra, 53.   

Bori ended up training his young son at the Peloteros football school, which is free for thousands of children in Herrera and the surrounding towns.

Cheerful but quiet

When Fati arrived he quickly caused a sensation on the football pitch, said Jordi Figaroa Moreno, his first Spanish coach.   

“He had a gift,” he told AFP. “The difference between him and his teammates was just huge, both technically and tactically. Among the youngsters, it's rare to find children who can play as a team, but he had everything.”   

Jose Luis Perez Mena, who runs the Peloteros school, described Fati as “very spontaneous” and “very cheerful” as well as “extroverted, but very quiet”.

His stellar success “has not gone to his head”.   

Within a year of arriving in Spain, Fati joined Sevilla. In 2012, at the age of 10, he was enrolled in Barcelona's youth system.  

“Ansu was one of the youngest players ever to have entered La Masia,” said

Marc Serra, his first coach at Barcelona.

“From the day that he arrived he was different, the type of player who invents football.”

'Mind-blowing'

In August, the teenager became the youngest player to score for Barcelona in La Liga. This month he became the club's youngest player in a Champions League match.

Spain's national coach Robert Moreno described Fati's debut for Barcelona as “mind-blowing”. Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde spoke of him as a “balanced boy” who is “at ease with himself”.

“We want him to learn to know himself, to know the first division, so he sees that it is hard and how much work and dedication it will take to succeed,” he said.

Speaking to Spain's Onda Cero radio last month, his proud father said he had taught Fati to “be respectful and happy with everyone”.   

“Every day I tell him: 'This is your job: when you have the ball, turn towards the goal, don't look anywhere else, and just shoot.”

By AFP's Allen Yero Embalo with Laurence Boutreux in Herrera, Spain

READ MORE: How sporting glory is a dream come true for migrants in Spain 

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POLITICS

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area

European countries agreed on Thursday to push towards a long-stalled reform of the bloc's migration system, urging tighter control of external borders and better burden-sharing when it comes to asylum-seekers.

How the EU aims to reform border-free Schengen area
European interior ministers met in the northern French city of tourcoing, where president Emmanuel Macron gave a speech. Photo: Yoat Valat/AFP

The EU home affairs commissioner Ylva Johansson, speaking after a meeting of European interior ministers, said she welcomed what she saw as new momentum on the issue.

In a reflection of the deep-rooted divisions on the issue, France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin – whose country holds the rotating EU presidency – said the process would be “gradual”, and welcomed what he said was unanimous backing.

EU countries backed a proposal from French President Emmanuel Macron to create a council guiding policy in the Schengen area, the passport-free zone used by most EU countries and some affiliated nations such as Switzerland and Norway.

Schengen council

Speaking before the meeting, Macron said the “Schengen Council” would evaluate how the area was working but would also take joint decisions and facilitate coordination in times of crisis.

“This council can become the face of a strong, protective Europe that is comfortable with controlling its borders and therefore its destiny,” he said.

The first meeting is scheduled to take place on March 3rd in Brussels.

A statement released after the meeting said: “On this occasion, they will establish a set of indicators allowing for real time evaluation of the situation at our borders, and, with an aim to be able to respond to any difficulty, will continue their discussions on implementing new tools for solidarity at the external borders.”

Step by step

The statement also confirmed EU countries agreed to take a step-by-step approach on plans for reforming the EU’s asylum rules.

“The ministers also discussed the issues of asylum and immigration,” it read.

“They expressed their support for the phased approach, step by step, put forward by the French Presidency to make headway on these complex negotiations.

“On this basis, the Council will work over the coming weeks to define a first step of the reform of the European immigration and asylum system, which will fully respect the balance between the requirements of responsibility and solidarity.”

A planned overhaul of EU migration policy has so far foundered on the refusal of countries such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia to accept a sharing out of asylum-seekers across the bloc.

That forces countries on the EU’s outer southern rim – Italy, Greece, Malta and Spain – to take responsibility for handling irregular migrants, many of whom are intent on making their way to Europe’s wealthier northern nations.

France is pushing for member states to commit to reinforcing the EU’s external borders by recording the details of every foreign arrival and improving vetting procedures.

It also wants recalcitrant EU countries to financially help out the ones on the frontline of migration flows if they do not take in asylum-seekers themselves.

Johansson was critical of the fact that, last year, “45,000 irregular arrivals” were not entered into the common Eurodac database containing the fingerprints of migrants and asylum-seekers.

Earlier, German Interior Minister Nancy Faeser suggested her country, France and others could form a “coalition of the willing” to take in asylum-seekers even if no bloc-wide agreement was struck to share them across member states.

She noted that Macron spoke of a dozen countries in that grouping, but added that was probably “very optimistic”.

Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, hailed what he said was “a less negative atmosphere” in Thursday’s meeting compared to previous talks.

But he cautioned that “we cannot let a few countries do their EU duty… while others look away”.

France is now working on reconciling positions with the aim of presenting propositions at a March 3rd meeting on European affairs.

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