At 6’2″ and solidly built, you are not what comes to mind when somebody says La Masia.
Imagine the hallowed Barcelona youth academy and the mind immediately drifts to the short, lightweight midfield tyros cut in the image of the current manager of the club, Xavi Hernandez. You look around, and his Barca team is full of those types: the Gavis, the Yamals, the Robertos. Heck, even the non-Masia ones are just that: Pedri, Joao Felix, Ilkay Gundogan… wherever you look, from the Academy to the main team, it’s like you’re walking in a field out of the wildest dreams of Xavi’s imagination. Your former coach at La Masia, Ivan Carrasco told Sport this season that you’re “a specialist in the [penalty box], not the typical Barcelona player].”
And yet here you are. Massive for a 17-year-old, sat on the bench as FC Barcelona take on Athletic Club in LaLiga.
You’ve trained with this senior team, you’ve even come on for the great Robert Lewandowski in a pre-season friendly four months ago, but surely the bench is where you’ll be spending the night.
That’s okay, too, really. Born in Granollers, just off Barcelona, you’ve been associated with the club since the day you could kick a ball. You started at Saint Celoni Barca, a Barcelona fan club, before moving to the real deal when you were just seven.
That was a decade ago, and you’ve spent ten years banging in goal-after-goal for blue-and-red teams through the youth ranks. You’ve done it for Spain too, scoring four in the U17 Euros this summer, joint top scorer with your mate Lamine Yamal. So, people know you can do this scoring goals schtick. Yamal has shown age isn’t a barrier, but surely as a centre-forward, you’ll have to wait a bit before you get a bite at the big leagues.
At the start of the month, October 8, you were on the bench against Granada and had the best seat in the house as your team fought back from 0-2 down to draw the game (Yamal scoring once). Xavi had told you to work hard, told you the opportunities would come, that you’d get a chance. You’d listened. You’d waited.
Then at 78 minutes and 41 seconds into the match on Sunday, with Athletic more than holding their own at 0-0, you step onto the pitch. Your dream, playing out in ultra-high definition on TV sets across the world. Socks around your ankles in that age-old tradition of announcing your baller-status, you are now leading the line for your boyhood club.
For the first moments, the ball’s in defence and they’re passing it about as they are wont to. Steeped in the Barca way, you know this, you know it’s not sterile possession, you know those wily old heads at the back are probing and seeking. Inigo Martinez steps it up with an urgent pass into the feet of Joao Felix and the moment he receives it on the half-turn you take off. Felix had a torrid time at Chelsea, after a torrid time at Atletico Madrid, but you know what he’s capable of — you’ve seen it in real-time whether it’s in training or in matches — and so you make the run.
And that’s when the crowd’s voice rises in the way a football crowd’s does when they are seeing something magical. You may not be the kind of player they are used to seeing, but with your size and frame comes an explosiveness that gets bums off seats. And defenders scrambling to cover. It’s like Carrasco had said, “he doesn’t stand out for his combination play but… he has a power and speed on the run that make him very dangerous when there is space.”
There is space here. Your run, superbly timed, off the shoulder of the veteran Oscar de Marcos has ensured it.
As the fans rise, as the defenders chase, you take your first touch in senior football. 31 seconds you’ve been on the pitch as you push the ball inside with your left foot. And then you open up your body, like Thierry Henry used to all those years ago, and with your first ever shot… you slot it calmly under the advancing Athletic and Spanish national team goalkeeper Unai Simon.
As you wheel away in wild celebration, there’s a smile on your face that feels like it’ll be permanently etched there, your lungs screaming “Vamoooos, Vamoooos“.
After the game, Martinez comes up to you and says: ‘today you won’t be able to sleep… but enjoy it.’
Boy, are you enjoying it.
You are the reason FC Barcelona have beaten Club Athletic (1-0), the reason your club goes into El Clasico just a point behind the great rivals. You’re the man.
And so, when you get back home, the adrenaline finally climbing down, as your eyes close and your replay that goal for the thousandth time, you may hear, in your head, a version of what Clive Tyldesley so famously said a couple of decades back about a very different kind of young forward “Remember the name…”
Except in this case, it’s your own name: Marc Guiu Paz.
Now, that’s how to make a debut.
And for that fairytale start to his senior football career, Guiu is ESPN India’s moment of the week.