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Comparing a 16-year-old to Pelé and Messi is ridiculous — unless it’s Lamine Yamal


DORTMUND, Germany — Don’t be ridiculous, of course it’s too early to start talking of Lamine Yamal in the same sentence as the all-time greats. He’s 16, for goodness’ sake. Leave Pelé, and Lionel Messi, and all the others out of this. It is unfair on both his tender years and on their body of work. It is premature and reactionary and probably just downright wrong.

And yet … how can you not?

Spain’s latest superstar had astonished Euro 2024 even before the left-footed piece of wizardry he uncorked on France to shift Tuesday’s semifinal in his team’s favor.

While his is a tremendous story of an emerging and special talent, it doesn’t fit the most comfortable narrative quite as perfectly as it might. Truth be told, he’s almost been too good. Yamal’s efforts in this tournament aren’t outstanding for a 16-year-old – he doesn’t turn 17 until Saturday — they’re outstanding for anyone.

It wouldn’t matter if he was 26 or 36, or in his sixth Euros not his first, he had still already been one of the best handful of players in the event, showcasing silky skills, innate movement, perfect weight of pass and ever-present fearlessness. Then, that highlight reel strike of strikes.

The other part, the bit that jars you out of your usual watching rhythm and also makes you feel lucky to be a witness, is how easily greatness touches him. Some players spend their entire career chasing the footsteps of the anointed. In Yamal’s case, they’re falling into his lap.

And that’s where the comparisons come into it, not forced and contrived or stated for the purpose of an argument, but because they’re right there, and unavoidable.

Lamine Yamal becomes the YOUNGEST player to score in Euros history with a STUNNING strike vs. France

When Yamal broke step, turned left and splashed the net to equalize in Munich, he became the youngest player to score in one of soccer’s two biggest tournaments, smashing the mark set by Pelé in the 1958 World Cup. Yes, Pelé. 

It might be obtuse to say, but in one sense, Yamal had already outmatched the Brazilian icon, who died in the waning days of 2022, at 82. In ’58, Pele didn’t start the first two group games and head coach Vicente Feola had to be persuaded to put him in the lineup. 

His big breakout came in, get this, a semifinal victory over France. Yamal, meanwhile, has been part of Luis de la Fuente’s La Roja plan from the get-go.

And Messi? Surely, we’re not going to start drawing parallels between a guy who is two decades into a career from the heavens and another mere months into his own.

[Related: How does Lionel Messi compare to Lamine Yamal at 16 years old?]

Except that, well, they’re both products of Barcelona’s famed La Masia academy, and they both play with unmitigated flair. And that photo …

In the days leading up to the semifinal Yamal’s father, Mounir, posted a snapshot from 2007 of a 20-year-old Messi bathing his son. It was clearly straight from photoshop, except that it wasn’t, it was real. Back then, global charity Unicef held a community raffle offering the opportunity for a photo shoot with a Barcelona player.

Yamal’s family won. The player in question was Messi. Fluke? Coincidence? Sure, unless you believe in the spooky workings of destiny.

“The beginning of two legends,” wrote Yamal’s dad alongside the post. No one has argued back.

What else? Well, one thing the burgeoning greats do is crush the dreams of others in their sphere, and there has already been a glimpse of that, too.

Yamal trod on the soul of the midfielder silly enough to question his capacity, France’s Adrien Rabiot, but he also wiped his feet on Kylian Mbappé’s bid to add a Euros triumph to his already sparking legacy. 

Right now, Mbappé might have been preparing for Sunday’s final without Yamal’s intervention. Instead, he is leaving Germany a failure — not my words.

“It is difficult for me, it is a failure,” Mbappe told reporters. “I had the ambition to be a European champion. We are not, so from this moment on it is a failure.”

On Wednesday, Yamal and Spain will discover who they will face in Sunday’s showpiece in Berlin (3 p.m. ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app). Whether it is England or the Netherlands, they will be a strong favorite.

When the Euros started, Yamal was still using part of his downtime completing his school homework. We can’t all do things with his sense of style, and this is a particularly clunky piece of wordplay, but he’s since become the player for whom there may be no solution. 

“What Lamine does,” teammate Ferran Torres said, “Should be illegal.”

It’s not forbidden to do what he does, it’s just so rare as to be beyond our typical comprehension. On its surface, the story goes that a 16-year-old is toying with the Euros and making it his personal plaything, while keeping early pace with the best who have ever played this game.

In its truest terms, Lamine Yamal is just doing Lamine Yamal things. Forget about age, it doesn’t matter now. 

We can make it as simple as you like. How about this? 

Perhaps the best player of the tournament is hitting top form, giving Spain an overwhelming advantage. Enjoy.

Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports. Follow him on Twitter @MRogersFOX and subscribe to the daily newsletter.

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