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Soccer

Gavi, Noooo! (But Also, Yesss.)

Gavi gets a red card
Fran Santiago/Getty Images

So much of what’s so special about Gavi, who has been perhaps the brightest of the admittedly dim rays of light in this benighted Barcelona season, seems inseparable from the fact that he will not even turn 18 friggin’ years old for another seven months.

Like, this goal a couple weeks ago against Elche is sick all on its own, sure:

That slick first touch to split two defenders, the burst of acceleration away from them, the smooth little inside-out move that lays waste to that last guy at the top of the box, and then the composed finish, in a moment when it would be totally understandable for him to have already skipped ahead to doing obnoxious Fortnite dances over how much cool shit he’d already done in the preceding five seconds. A spectacular goal all on its own, and even better when you recall that the guy producing it is 17 years old. Seven-damn-teen! He’s already this good, and 17 years old.

Then there’s the converse. It’s remarkable for a 17-year-old to be this good, and it is no less remarkable for a soccer player as good as Gavi is to be quite as 17-years-old as he is about everything: Flying around at maximum hair-on-fire competitive frenzy at every moment, as though he believes he can win every ball, press the entire pitch at once, crack the defense open with every pass and run, and most especially that he can make every wild truck-stick-ass tackle. I’ve taken to calling him the Optimism Lad: The sometimes hilariously misplaced and always 100-percent teenaged conviction that he can always make the next good thing happen stands out starkly on this bleak, miserable Barcelona team, a SpongeBob amid a pack of Squidwards.

This is the very easiest type of professional athlete to root for and bond with, in my experience, like rookie John Wall sprinting madly into a deeply unnecessary foul in a meaningless preseason game because he hasn’t yet had all that beautiful, blinkered sense of mission and purpose corroded off of him by years of immersion in the Washington Wizards bath. I feel reasonably confident that comparison will appall somebody, and for good reason: Barcelona, for all its present-day disarray and dysfunction, almost certainly will take better care of Gavi than John Wall got from the NBA’s most ridiculous of clown cars. In the meantime, accept the good with the bad with this type of young star, and gladly. The trade-off is worth it.

Ah, right, speaking of the bad. Barcelona led Granada 1-0 after 78 ugly, fitful minutes on Saturday, and were scrambling to hold off the hosts’ efforts at an equalizer when Gavi, racing for a loose ball (and already carrying a yellow card from a 22nd-minute foul), uncorked this hilarious and terrible wipeout slide…

Gavi does a really bad tackleCredit: via Youtube

…earning himself a second yellow and an early exit. This is an incredibly 17-year-old thing to do. It’s not like his, ah, victim, Granada’s Alex Collado, was about to score the game-winner, and here came Gavi cannily sacrificing himself for the cause; this was a ball sorta loosely doinking around in the area between a couple of Granada guys and like six Barcelona guys, 30 yards from the goal, and a 17-year-old goofus who cannot always tell the difference between a live grenade and a pile of poop when deciding whether to throw himself on something all heroic-like. Granada got their equalizer 10 minutes later; instead of a win that would have boosted Barcelona into La Liga’s crucial top four for the first time in what feels like eternity, the match finished a 1-1 draw and left them squarely in sixth. Afterward, manager Xavi chalked the blown lead up to “lack of experience.” This is a very polite and diplomatic way of saying that but for a teen whose wild self-belief stole all the oxygen away from his brain at the wrong moment, Barcelona may very well have ended the weekend in line for a Champions League berth.

It’s fine! It’s fine. One win over Granada in the middle of a mostly lost season is infinitely less precious a thing to have than what made this spiral-eyed wonderteen fling himself into that collision. May Gavi keep the latter forever, or for as long as it’s not my Achilles tendons between him and the ball.