Several legendary players have worn Barcelona’s No.11 shirt over the years, from Carles Rexach and Txiki Begiristain to Brazilian superstars Rivaldo and Neymar. Now, it belongs to Yusuf Demir and the 18-year-old is working hard to earn his Blaugrana stripes.
The winger was signed by Barcelona on loan from Rapid Vienna in the 2021 summer transfer window, with a purchase option that they could trigger next summer for €10m. When he arrived in Catalonia, Demir had already played 38 matches at senior level for the club from Austria’s capital, scoring nine goals and providing four assists in the process, plus he had just made his senior national team debut in March. Such a CV at such a young age had made him a nominee for the 2021 Golden Boy award, which recognises the best U21 player in Europe.
Given his young age, Demir was initially signed to play for Barcelona’s B team. However, he was so impressive in pre-season that coach Ronald Koeman promoted him to the first-team squad, following in Hans Krankl’s footsteps to become only the second Austrian to play for Barça’s senior side. His rising star status was confirmed further when the teenager inherited the prestigious No.11 shirt from Ousmane Dembélé, who switched to No.7 over the summer.
After wowing Koeman in training with his work ethic and his special left foot, Demir made his competitive debut for the Blaugrana away at Athletic Club in Matchday 2 of the 2021/22 LaLiga Santander season, becoming the Catalan club’s youngest foreign debutant in the league since Lionel Messi in 2004. More appearances have since followed and Demir has been one of the bright sparks in what has been a difficult start to the campaign for Barça overall.
Yusuf comes from a footballing family; his cousins Berke Kuvvet and Kerim Kuvvet play in Austria and his younger brother Furkan Demir is currently part of the Rapid Vienna youth system. And he has obvious natural talent. When he dribbles, arguably his greatest attribute, the ball appears to be glued to his boots as he keeps it so close, not letting opposition defenders anywhere near it.
There’s a lot more than just natural talent, though, as Demir has also been widely praised for his work ethic. That’s how he earned his promotion from the B team to a place in the first-team squad so quickly, taking pre-season as seriously as he would any other game and even scoring a goal in the friendly victory over Stuttgart.
Despite the rollercoaster past few months, in which Demir has suddenly found himself in starting line-ups for Barcelona, the youngster is keeping his feet on the ground. “It’s very intense and it took me a moment to adapt at first,” he admitted after his first competitive minutes with the team. “But then I got used to it and I’m very happy to have played my first match for Barcelona. I hope to play many more times for this team. It’s an honour to be at this club, a dream that’s come true and one that I worked very hard for.”
If Demir keeps working hard and keeps the good performances up, he can convince the club to extend his loan into a permanent deal. As a bright spark in an otherwise tough season so far, don’t bet against him doing just that.