The day the United States confirmed the brand El Clasico will never die, 20-year-old Fermin Lopez reminded Barcelona that La Masia won’t either.

Fermin is the story of Barcelona’s pre-season tour of the U.S. and gave the 82,026 fans at the AT&T Stadium in Texas— a record attendance for a soccer game at the stadium — a performance to remember.

The midfielder, a shock inclusion for the tour by Xavi, beat Thibaut Courtois with a screamer and delivered a fine assist to Ferran Torres to wrap up a 3-0 win over Real Madrid.

“He is a talented footballer — he knows how to leak the last pass, which is what he really lacked last season,” Barca coach Xavi said. “He scored a worldie with his left foot and then assisted Ferran with the right foot, so he can use both feet. He also can play in multiple roles from a winger to a central midfielder. This whole package is not easy to find. I like him a lot. He is full of personality.

“He is hungry and has a great character — that’s very important. When I saw that in training, I realised I had to give him minutes. I trusted him and he is delivering. That’s what football is about”.

Fermin has been a Barcelona player since he was 12, when he joined from Real Betis. He has not always been outstanding performer, according to coaches at La Masia.

Last summer Fermin Lopez was not good enough to stay with Barcelona’s B team.

Despite completing pre-season with the club’s second team in his first year of men’s football, Fermin was one of the weakest players in the squad. His physique had not fully developed and the club told him he was not going to have the right number of minutes to boost his development.

He spent the season on loan to Linares in the third tier of Spanish football where he became one of the best players in the league. In the second half of the season, in 19 games, he scored 11 goals and assisted two more.

Less than a month ago, he received a call to join the first team for training. Xavi was not going to have his full squad ready, with some players still enjoying their holidays, and needed more bodies from the youth ranks.

As soon as he completed his first week of training, Xavi was clear in his mind that he was not going to leave Fermin out of the squad to travel to the U.S.

His inclusion was particularly unexpected, as he was not one of the youngsters who was supposed — or contractually obliged — to join the first team in pre-season.

With Barcelona being unable to offload all the players they would have liked, including Clement Lenglet and Sergino Dest who are still at the club, Xavi had too many bodies. Fermin, however, had to be there.

The first public call that something special was happening with him came from a relevant voice on that dressing room — Pedri. “If I had to highlight one of the youngsters? Well, one I really like is Fermin. I had never played with him before, but he’s full of aggression and talent.”

Pedri’s words came in Los Angeles and, three days later, it was less surprising to see him coming off the bench at half-time for the U.S. opener against Arsenal.

Last night, he had a 25-minute stint in El Clasico — more than enough to become the main star.

The way Oscar Hernandez, Xavi’s brother and assistant, passionately hugged the manager after Fermin’s goal revealed how excited the coaching staff are about the 20-year-old.

“I knew Fermin from when I joined Barcelona,” Ronald Araujo, the Uruguay centre-back, said. “Although back then he was much smaller, he’s grown up now.”

Fermin’s emergence has also been, partly, down to his best friend Gavi being injured.


Fermin takes on Vinicius Jr in Dallas (Photo: ARIC BECKER/AFP via Getty Images)

The 18-year-old had been left out from the first two Barcelona games in the States due to back pain, so Fermin has had his chance.

Gavi and Fermin were team-mates at La Masia. Those who have been close to the team during pre-season say Gavi has taken care of his old friend during the whole tour — he has even included him on the same table with several dressing room veterans during team lunches and dinners.

Alejandro Balde was also a previous team-mate. Both were two of the first players, after captain Sergi Roberto, to reach Fermin at the final whistle. The 20-year-old knelt down to the AT&T Stadium pitch, and couldn’t contain the emotion as he realised what he had done.

“Xavi and my team-mates just congratulated me,” Fermin said. “I still can’t believe it. I have been speaking to my family — they’ve suffered all those years with me. That’s for them and to my people in my hometown, El Campillo. I’m so happy for them too.

“I can only keep working. Obviously, I want to stay here in Barcelona. It’s a dream and a privilege to be here in the pre-season. I’ve been a Barca fan since I’m a kid.”

How long will the dream live for, though? It is a tough call. Despite the signing of Ilkay Gundogan, Xavi still thinks a new attacking midfielder would be required to give his four-midfielder system more depth.

If a signing arrives, this would not be great news for Fermin’s first team involvement — he would be back with the B team.

The backroom staff are being cautious with the 20-year-old. “If he stays with us? It depends on him for sure,” Xavi said. “He can help us. He has to stay with the same mentality. I have never been afraid to use young talent and if he deserves it, he will be there.”

It may be the case that the Catalan manager wants to keep rewarding Fermin, and prefers to prioritise the signing of a right-back rather than a new midfielder.

“We need more signings,” Xavi said. “We still lack some things. The board knows it. We need more to be fully competitive.”

What won’t change, though, is that everyone in Texas will remember the night Fermin announced himself to the world.

(Photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)