At one point, Fermin Lopez could have become that guy who, in 25 years, would be sitting at his local bar, surrounded by friends, unfolding every little detail of the best day of his life over and over: a summer night in Dallas when he represented Barcelona in a pre-season Clasico and scored a belter past Thibaut Courtois.
July 29, 2023. That was the day we all found out about Fermin — and honestly, no one could blame him for never getting tired of remembering every single moment of that game. Looking up, moving the ball to his left foot and firing his shot announced this shy 20-year-old to the world.
But there is more good news: it looks like Fermin won’t be that one-night wonder.
Barcelona’s win against Sevilla in La Liga certified he has everything in his power to create more of these memories and have a successful career in football’s elite.
The 1-0 victory will also be remembered for Sergio Ramos returning to Catalonia to face Barcelona — now wearing a Sevilla shirt — and deciding the game by scoring an own goal in the 76th minute.
The Barca crowd, who had been heavily booing Ramos for the whole night (the centre-back was thriving on it and putting on an excellent performance), certainly enjoyed that.
But for those who were there, or even the ones who watched the game on TV, the standout player was Fermin.
After scoring a 75th-minute equaliser earlier this week at Mallorca — a goal that earned Barcelona a point — Xavi had to trust the 20-year-old again on Friday after Raphinha picked up a hamstring injury in the 37th minute of the match.
Xavi — along with most of the elite teams in Europe at the moment it seems — has a significant problem with injuries in his squad. Raphinha now joins Pedri and Frenkie de Jong on the list of players who will miss matches over the coming weeks. De Jong attended the game at Montjuic on crutches, and Raphinha could be out for around a month, according to initial assessments from Barcelona’s medical staff.
This problem might be a blessing for Fermin, whose performance placed him in contention to start next Wednesday in the Champions League against Porto.
He operated as the right-attacking midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation as Xavi returned to playing with two pure wingers to counter Sevilla’s pressing system.
Ilkay Gundogan was finally deployed as a holding midfielder in order to get him more involved in the ball circulation and find a better source of passes to the final third.
The former Manchester City captain was very solid, as usual, but the real game-changer was Fermin, as Xavi said after the game.
“Raphinha was playing very well until his injury, but it is true that Fermin came into the game in a fantastic way,” said Xavi. “From here, the only thing he can do is believe in himself. He helped us a lot to win this game.”
Fermin started with a golden chance, served by 16-year-old Lamine Yamal, who has a special chemistry with his academy team-mate. The winger’s cross was put down with a jaw-dropping first touch from Fermin, who controlled the ball while he was turning around inside the box and shaping his body for the final shot.
As exquisite as his ball control was, his shot was disappointing and ended up in the hands of Orjan Nyland, Sevilla’s goalkeeper.
Fermin wasn’t about to stop, though. His display was full of dynamism, and high-level efforts at both ends of the pitch, and he became a constant threat driving the ball up front and connecting Barcelona’s midfield to the attacking line.
He can be defined as a classic La Masia attacking midfielder, although this was not always the case during his journey at the club. He started operating as a left winger but was left out of starting line-ups in academy football as he struggled to develop physically.
His background as a winger, though, possibly gives him the tools that make him different from the likes of Gavi or Pedri: a real talent to arrive into the box.
His goal last Tuesday against Mallorca was proof of how well he attacks the second line, and on Friday night there was more of the same. Ramos’ own goal happened, in practical terms, because the 36-year-old defender tried to prevent Fermin from connecting with Yamal’s assist.
Fermin just didn’t show off the hunger you can expect from a youngster who wants to earn his place in the team, but also the instant game-reading ability you associate with the brightest La Masia talents.
He knew when to accelerate the play and when to slow it down. He knew when the attack needed a straight pass or if spraying the ball to one of the wings was preferable. It’s astonishing that, despite everything going on at Barcelona, La Masia still supplies an endless number of gems.
Fermin ended the game with 47 touches and a 90 per cent pass accuracy (26 out of 29 complete). He completed all the dribbles (three) he attempted, and only Joao Cancelo registered more (four). Fermin created one big chance — a situation in which a player should reasonably be expected to score — and missed another one.
“To me, he is an exceptional footballer — as clear as that,” said Xavi. “Fermin can play with both feet, he does not lose the ball, he’s skilful in the one vs one and can shoot from outside of the box. There are a lot of talents there to be a Barcelona player for many years.
“I am especially thrilled for him because I saw something special in Fermin since the first day he came in pre-season.”
Last season, Fermin didn’t even make the cut for Barcelona’s second team and was sent on loan to third-tier side Linares. This probably explains the only issue — according to his manager — that Fermin needs to improve.
“The main thing I’d tell Fermin is he had to believe in it more,” said Xavi. “Believe in that he can do what we’ve witnessed tonight every week, because I think he can.”
This is a story of being in the right place at the right time for a player who, not long ago, struggled to see himself playing in the top flight.
Now it’s in Fermin’s hands to make it the story of an elite footballer who won’t just have to hang on that night in Dallas.
(Top photo: Getty Images)