Ansu Fati is in danger of being deemed a failure at Brighton – something needs to change

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Ansu Fati is running out of time to change the perception that his season on loan from Barcelona has not been worthwhile for Brighton & Hove Albion.

Head coach Roberto De Zerbi needed a big performance from Fati in the FA Cup fifth round tie at Wolves with his squad ravaged by injuries, especially up front.

He didn’t get one. Fati, leading the attack on his first start since suffering a hamstring injury at Nottingham Forest in November, was underwhelming as Brighton were beaten 1-0 at Molineux.

The 21-year-old had one shot — off target — in the 70 minutes that he was on the pitch before he was substituted. He made little impact playing as the central striker in the first half, or on the left in the second period following the introduction of Danny Welbeck, who was not fit enough to start the game.

His struggles were summed up in the 17th minute, when some loose control from a pass out by goalkeeper Jason Steele prompted a foul and a yellow card. His replacement, Julio Enciso, did more to catch the eye in less time on his second substitute appearance since six months out with a torn meniscus. The 20-year-old Paraguayan drew three fouls in advanced areas in his first few minutes on the field.


Ansu Fati is booked at Wolves (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

January signing Valentin Barco, brought on for his debut as a left-wingback in the 80th minute did more as well in an encouraging cameo. The 19-year-old Argentinian delivered a dangerous cross which Welbeck headed off target. He also forced a couple of corners in the late quest to force extra-time.

Fati cannot afford many more lukewarm contributions if he wants more game time, even with De Zerbi’s restricted options in attacking areas. Among the nine players missing through injury or suspension, Evan Ferguson’s ankle issue is very short-term, while 19-goal top scorer Joao Pedro is two to four weeks away from returning from hamstring damage.

De Zerbi defended Fati’s lacklustre performance. Asked by The Athletic if he is looking for a bit more from him, the Italian said: “No, I am looking forward to having less injuries. Ansu Fati didn’t play a fantastic game, but he played well enough to consider him in a good way.

“He fought on the pitch, he showed a good attitude, I can’t say anything (against him). I would like to play with Mitoma, March, Joao Pedro, Billy Gilmour suspended.

“Because in my head last summer, when I thought about my team, I thought with Mitoma, with March as a winger, Joao Pedro with Welbeck, Joao Pedro with Ferguson, or Ferguson with Julio (Enciso). Julio didn’t play for six months and Mitoma and March are both finished for the season. For that, I have nothing against the performance of Ansu Fati.”

Whilst it is reasonable to think that with more quality regularly available around him, Fati may have delivered more, it is becoming difficult to avoid the conclusion that he has not justified his expensive move.

Brighton, generally speaking, are not fans of loans, on the basis that they are helping to develop a player belonging to another club. That is why they do so few of them.

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Roberto De Zerbi defended Ansu Fati (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

They made an exception last season by borrowing central defender Levi Colwill, which worked out well. He was impressive to the extent that Brighton were eager to sign him permanently, or at least have him back for a second loan, but Chelsea were having none of it. They awarded Colwill a new contract and he has featured regularly for them this season.

That deal was low cost compared to the near £7million investment in Fati. Brighton are paying 80 per cent of the Spaniard’s weekly wage of £160,000 ($200,000) — and let that figure sink in for a moment. That £128,000 weekly contribution is way above what any other member of De Zerbi’s squad earns. They must have been expecting more for their money.

go-deeper

GO DEEPER

Ansu Fati’s future – Barcelona, Brighton or a fresh start?

There were some encouraging signs before Fati returned to Spain for treatment on the hamstring injury which kept him out for 10 weeks. He scored four goals in 14 appearances, albeit two of the goals coming against a poor Ajax side in each of the victories in the group stage of the Europa League against the fallen Dutch giants.

Brighton’s forthcoming last 16 tie over two legs against AS Roma potentially offers an opportunity of redemption, but Fati’s performances are not demanding inclusion.

He was not thrown in cold against Wolves. Four substitute appearances in the Premier League, accumulating 78 minutes playing time, amounted to reasonable preparation for his return to the starting line-up.

Fati is facing an uncertain future at Barcelona. The only way Brighton could afford to retain his services without ripping to pieces a carefully managed salary structure would be another loan. The chances of that interesting them are receding unless he starts producing much more than he has up to now.

(Top photo: Neal Simpson/Sportsphoto/Allstar via Getty Images)





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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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