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Former Barcelona defender on issues with Koeman: “He told me I was contaminating the group”

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Photo by PAU BARRENA/AFP via Getty Images

For a possible transfer cost of up to €30 million, Barcelona agreed to acquire Junior Firpo from Real Betis back in 2019.

Firpo was bought with the intention of providing competition to Jordi Alba as a secondary left-back option, but things did not turn out to be all sunshine and rainbows for the Dominican.

Barcelona’s tumultuous environment, paired with the player’s personal issues, led to a spell enshrouded in complications.

Now, taking a trip down memory lane, Firpo reflected on his time in Barcelona and, more specifically, what went wrong, via SPORT.

Commenting on the huge upturn in pressure he faced when making the leap from Betis to Barcelona, Firpo said:

“It was totally different because of the first game. That moment marked me for the worse. I started like this, with a mistake in my first game as a starter… and on top of that, the coach took me off at half-time. That makes you start on a very bad foot and with criticism.

“As much as I didn’t try to read them, nowadays everything reaches you, especially with social networks. After that game, I had thousands of comments and insults, thousands of private messages and threats. I thought: ‘Has it been that bad?’ Yes, okay, I’m sorry, I made a mistake, we lost… but the repercussion was much bigger than at Betis.”

Firpo’s excellent season under Betis earned him many plaudits and speaking about the difficulty one finds turning down a top club, he claimed:

“If Barcelona, ​​or Real Madrid, or Manchester City, or Liverpool come to you, it is very difficult to say no. No matter how much you know that you are not going to be a starter: Jordi Alba was there, but I knew he was not going to be.

“I knew that I wouldn’t have the importance or the prominence of Betis, but I was going to learn. I talked about this a lot with Lo Celso when I was at Betis: I would get to the baseline and put the ball to him, which was the play they made Jordi Alba and Messi. Well, now I wanted to do it with Messi.”

Firpo made just 41 appearances in his two years at Barca, with two goals and three assists. The majority of these games were played in his debut campaign since Ronald Koeman seldom started the left-back in the final season.

The left-back acknowledged both campaigns went down very differently and the underlying reasons behind the difficulties he faced.

“The first one was a disappointment in myself. I regret a lot that I didn’t make better use of it. I wouldn’t say I went out on the field with fear, but I went out thinking I would be questioned. If you do well: ‘Bah, nothing happens, it’s Barcelona against Mallorca, they are better, they have to win’.

“And if you do badly, they’re out to get you. My feeling is that no matter what happened I would be one of the focus of criticism if there was a bad result. I didn’t play the way I played at Betis… And yet I played more than I thought I would,” he remarked.

Things did not go well for Firpo at Barça. (Photo by ANDER GILLENEA/AFP via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, the second season was marred by the health problems of his child.

“I had a very good chance to leave for Inter, but my second son was born with lung problems and I made the decision to stay in Barcelona. The medical services were very good and I didn’t want to make a move between countries after such a complicated time in and out of the hospital.

“In the team, they knew: as much as I had problems with Koeman, there were days when I told him I wanted to stay with my wife and son and he understood,” he said.

The player did not get along well with Ronald Koeman, which he has previously emphasized in interviews and brought it up once again, stating:

“I don’t think Koeman knew me very well. He was the first one who told me to stay, but that didn’t turn into minutes. I remember one time when Alba was injured and he put Dest at left-back. The minutes he gave me were on the right… I had few.

“I had several games in which I played well, but he didn’t give me continuity. Then I didn’t play for a month. I didn’t understand that.”

“At first, he was looking for explanations for his lack of involvement, but Koeman gave me an answer in which he wasn’t being honest with me: he told me that I was contaminating the group, so I stopped trying”. he added.

Despite scarce opportunities, Firpo infamously locked down Kylian Mbappe in the second leg of Barcelona vs PSG, which he remarks was his best game.

“Mbappé’s was a brutal assignment. He came from a game where he scored a hattrick and that day he also started very well [he scored the 1-0].

“In training they saw that I was very competitive one-on-one. And Koeman put me against Mbappé all over the pitch. It went well, probably my best game, although we ended up being eliminated,” he recalls.

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