With the fans’ puzzlement growing day by day and the team’s performances declining nearly every fixture, some glaring questions are being asked. One of them importantly being, why does Riqui Puig still not play? Despite his lack of minutes, the youngster has managed to impress every time he came off the bench. Particularly in the game against Juventus. In light of recent reports, however, Riqui Puig’s situation at Barcelona has become much clearer.
A near-scandalous report from El Pais claimed that Ronald Koeman called Riqui Puig a “leaker” in the dressing room ahead of their Joan Gamper trophy clash with Elche in September. He believed that Puig leaked his exclusion from the team to the press himself.
Since the Dutchman was appointed head coach, Puig has seen his playing time rapidly diminish. When news broke out that the youngster would look for a new club, his exclusion from the squad against Elche only stoked the flames.
It is undoubtedly clear now that this is an internal issue and has little to do with footballing ability. The reliable Alfredo Martinez also recently reported that Koeman’s outburst at Puig sat well with some of the dressing room heavyweights. A player of his calibre who offers so much to the team, should not suffer due to internal politics.
A miasma of conflict and complacency
One of the most accurate descriptions of Barcelona in recent years would be ‘frail and complacent’. Over the past few years, reports have come in every other week suggesting how the “dressing room heavyweights” have issues with certain players or staff. Players holding seemingly too much influence in the club’s technical decisions naturally led to a highly negative environment.
Riqui Puig’s situation now is a perfect example. He seems to be the latest in a long line of victims of toxicity behind the scenes. Any sort of change and dynamism seems to be rejected at the club, with some players taking their game time for granted but doing little to prove why they warrant it.
Is Puig’s attitude the problem?
When you observe the 21-year-old, he oozes personality. On the pitch, he doesn’t shy away from taking control of the ball. He doesn’t seem fazed by the big names he’s playing alongside. Puig never hesitates to show his frustration if his teammates misplace a pass or make a dodgy decision.
But when you put this attitude in a team of huge superstars who don’t seem to like being told what to do, problems arise. And now Koeman’s supposed outburst has only worked in their favour.
A while ago, it seemed like Puig’s situation was the same as his fellow youngsters. Namely Pedri, Carles Alena and Fransisco Trincao. But after the Gamper Trophy, Puig seems to have fallen a far distance behind as opposed to Pedri, who Koeman has clearly taken a shine to.
TV program ‘Gol a gol’ recently discussed this in a segment. They reported that Koeman apparently fell in love with Pedri because he worked extremely hard. The teenager attended the voluntary training sessions that Koeman had scheduled, which Riqui apparently did not. In the days following a match, Puig reportedly trained in recovery sessions as if he had been a starter despite his lack of minutes. Another issue which Koeman found problematic.
There are some obvious differences between Pedri and Puig’s situation, however. For one, Pedri is a teenager who was transferred to the club, while Puig has made his way up the ranks at La Masia. Both players are incredibly gifted, but naturally, a teenager who came from outside will train like he has more to prove in his first season.
What next for Riqui?
Riqui Puig has been adamant on staying and proving himself at Barça. Even though a loan move would have been understandable from his point of view, he is not one to let up so easily. There is no doubt that he has to be utilized. The young Spaniard is a solution to numerous problems that currently plague the team.
Him being on the pitch is a huge bonus since there is one more creative outlet. Despite playing only a cumulative 85 minutes this season, Puig has averaged 2 key passes per 90. Only Leo Messi has more with 2.81 in the team. In the 24 minutes he played against Juventus, he was the team’s brightest spark in a dreadful defeat. His tenacity off the ball and ability on it were on full display. With 2 key passes, 93% pass accuracy, 4 duels won and 6 recoveries, he was a game-changer. Alas, he was brought on too late.
Only one thing is for certain. This is no time for holding grudges. Whoever seems to have issues with Puig, needs to overlook them. Barça are currently 8th in the league and don’t seem to be getting much better. It is time for Koeman to deliver on his promises of a new era and play Riqui Puig, starting tomorrow against Real Sociedad.
The young starlet’s love for the club is unquestionable, but if his shackles aren’t removed, he may leave for his own sake. And who can blame him? The damage to Barça as a consequence will be far more catastrophic.