When a local Bristol team took on a future superstar Gareth Southgate's England must overcome

At 15, Xavi Simons' name was already being talked about in hushed tones as the players assembled to compete at the ME Cup in Menorca in the Easter of 2018.

Other elite clubs were present on the Balearic isle - Manchester City, Paris Saint-German, Atletico Madrid, Valencia, Borussia Dortmund and Villarreal among them - boasting their own array of talent, but Simons was the player to watch, already discussed in terms of becoming a superstar for Barcelona.

Also among the field that weekend was a team from the North Somerset Regional Talent Centre. Based in and around Bristol, they had taken an Under-15 squad to Spain and, as luck would have it, had been drawn in Barca's group.

The Catalans' side that day also featured Fermin Lopez, part of the Spain squad at Euro 2024, and flying Barca left-back Alejandro Balde, but it was Simons everyone wanted to take a look at, given his star-billing. Eight years on, and Simons will be up against Jude Bellingham, Declan Rice and Kobbie Mainoo at the Westfalenstadion tonight for a place in Sunday's European Championships final.

The talent and promise had been for all to see, even as a tiny schoolboy in his early scenes. Small of stature but with his distinctive hairstyle and outrageously efficient technique, he was "a step ahead" of everyone who encountered him over that competition.

For North Somerset, they were on the end of a 5-0 defeat to Barca but for then-midfielder now Weston-super-mare winger Bailey Kempster, they're memories to last a lifetime.

“Going into it, everyone knew who Xavi was, and we all had a team picture with him before the game. Everybody had heard he was the next superstar coming through Barcelona’s academy," Kempster, now 21, tells Bristol Live.

“He was playing defensive midfield for them, so I was playing in the middle of the park against him. You know what you’re up against, you know you’re going to be in for a tough game. He wasn’t particularly quick, or tall physically, it was just the way he read the game and received the ball; his touch and then his passes were always just absolutely perfect. He was just a step ahead of everyone else on the pitch, without being physically dominant.

“He just seemed to have so much space, it wasn’t a case of getting near him, his game awareness was just so good, always scanning his shoulders and peeling off into space; knowing where to be at exactly the right time, and that’s all he had known, growing up with the football he had done.

“I had a few nice touches in the game but I don’t think I ever went past him. Our coach was pretty pleased, I don’t think it was as one-sided as the score suggests.

"It wasn’t a 5-0 game, if that makes sense. They were just really clinical. Nothing was in the air, the rotations through midfield were just different to what we were used to. The quality on the ball and the fitness levels were quite a bit better."

Simons left the Camp Nou in 2019 without making a first-team appearance, signing for PSG before spending a season wih PSV Eindhoven leading to the Ligue 1 giants buying him back and loaning him to RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga.

Already with 19 Dutch caps to his name, Simons has started four of the Netherlands' five matches in Germany and looks set to become an integral figure for club and country over the next decade. That being said, on the day it was another player clad in blue and garnet who caught the eye of those watching.

"The standout player on the day was Alejandro Balde. He was absolute brilliant going up and down the left, he was head and shoulders above anything else on the pitch that day," North Somerset RTC football secretary Steve Arney recalls. "We knew about Xavi Simons but we said, this Balde kid is going to go to the top.

"Xavi sat in a CDM role and conducted affairs, Fermin Lopez came on and scored a couple of the goals in the second half - he was tidy, but also tiny, he's shot up since then.

"It's all about the experience for the boys, it's not very often kids from around this area get the opportunity to pit their wits against the best academies in the world."

SIGN UP: For our daily Robins newsletter, bringing you the latest from Ashton Gate