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Riqui Puig’s situation at Barcelona: The cost of talent

Aaryan Parasnis

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Photo via Imago

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.

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Puig is a delight to watch on the ball. (Photo via Imago)

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.

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Pedri has – apparently – done a lot more to justify his starting position. (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/Getty Images)

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.

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The team desperately needs a shift in personnel to accommodate Puig. (Photo by Laszlo Szirtesi/Getty Images)

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.

It was the great César Luis Menotti who once said that "to be a footballer means being a privileged interpreter of the feelings and dreams of many, many people". This quote has stuck with me since my childhood when football first caught my attention. My interest in football developed from a hobby to an emotion embedded into every fibre of my being. Football and Barça became my life. I spend every waking moment thinking about football and my sentimentality towards FC Barcelona is a catalyst. The world's most popular sport is a universal language that unites everyone who loves it and, to me, writing about football is being able to transmit that language in my own way.

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Barcelona’s rebirth is inevitable, but it will take time

Domagoj Kostanjšak

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Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP via Getty Images

Barcelona’s rebirth is just around the corner. In early March, the club will finally get their long-awaited new president following the tyranny that was Josep Maria Bartomeu’s tenure. And perhaps ‘tyranny’ may be a bit too harsh of a verdict, but how else would you call years of systematically destroying the club, consciously or subconsciously, plunging it deeper and deeper into the abyss? On second thoughts, ‘tyranny‘ will just have to do.

But all of that is firmly behind us now. In just weeks’ time, the Catalan giant will rise once more, reborn from the ashes of its fallen self to conquer the world anew. But things in football are never really that easy, are they? Everyone knows you can’t win all the time.

Even the greatest of teams such as Pep Guardiola’s very own Barcelona had their rise, peak and subsequent downfall. And there are not many clubs out there who have faced the harsh reality of building new dynasties from scratch as much as Barcelona have.

Pep Guardiola’s team reached heights unheard of in club football. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

So if history is any indication at all, change takes time and the upcoming presidential tenure at the club will be no different. But let’s get one thing clear right away – this is not meant to bash any of the three candidates nor promote them either. All three of Joan Laporta, Victor Font and Antoni Freixa have their own visions of the direction in which to take their beloved club.

However, to think everything will suddenly and immediately change upon their appointment would be foolish. No, in March, we’re not getting the rebirth; we’re only getting the very beginning of one. With a new president sitting in that chair and appointing a new board, Barcelona will once again lay the groundwork for future success.

The immediate appointment of the new upper hierarchy might boost the morale, of course. And that in itself could then translate to a boost on the pitch as well. But a new president can only do as much in such a short amount of time. The real battles are always fought on the pitches and there, Barcelona are still looking like a broken team.

This too, of course, can be fixed over time. With the appropriate staff behind the scenes, a much better scouting department, physios, psychologists and a step-by-step tactical and squad overhaul, we can start hoping for result. But those are all long-term goals that require patience both from us the fans and the team itself.

Baby steps. (Photo by CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP via Getty Images)

Unfortunately, years of failure in the market, chasing ghosts of our pasts and blind picks, have resulted in a financially distorted club. Where once was wealth and prosperity now we only have crumbs of former glory. Yes, Barcelona are still a powerful outfit that can and should be aiming to attract only the very best.

But we also have to remember that each of the three candidates is seemingly putting a lot of emphasis on going back to the roots. ‘The roots‘ here mean La Masia, the academy and the youth. But just as is the case with any sporting project, especially the ones founded on the strength coming from within, this takes time to develop. Rome wasn’t built overnight. Nor was La Masia or Barcelona’s legacy, for that matter.

The Azulgranas really do have incredible talent in their youth ranks and this is definitely a pool of players that should be utilised in the future. We shouldn’t, however, expect to find the new Golden Generation right around the corner.

We have been fooled into thinking the likes of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi Hernández, Sergio Busquets and Lionel Messi are the standard and the rule. Unfortunately, as much as we like to keep telling ourselves otherwise, they are very much the exception to the rule; the standout and likely a one-in-a-million crop of players that flourished under a brilliant manager.

The peak, not the standard. (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

So many things had to be in the right place for them to make it, and somehow, the stars had aligned back then to ensure their development into footballing giants. It would be foolish to expect the same thing to happen again, or rather, to happen that quickly.

But with the right foundations, the right personnel, trust and hope, why shouldn’t we believe in it happening once more? After all, we have the secret recipe for success but are too afraid to use it. Why? Well, the times have changed since Barcelona last ruled the world.

Back in 2009, success was not guaranteed nor was is so expected and the fans were nowhere near as spoilt as they are now. Back then, the coach actually had the time to build a squad, groom them and mould them in his image. That’s what Pep did and miraculously enough, it didn’t take him years, not even months, to start making something truly incredible.

And in so many ways, 2021 mirrors that exact same situation. Before Pep’s time, Frank Rijkaard had been struggling for a while and his team, despite having some big names, was in a need of an overhaul. In that regard, Barcelona were entering their transitional period, the same one they are experiencing now.

Rijkaard bowed out from the stage having finished third in La Liga and having exited both Copa del Rey and the Champions League in the semi-finals. It was a valiant effort for a broken team but ultimately, he finished his tenure with a trophyless season. But in so many ways, that 2007/08 campaign was a start of a new story; one that promoted trust in the youth, power from within and confidence in the beginning of a rise to glory.

So what can we learn from that? We must accept that change is sometimes necessary but that it can cost a lot. In football, results and trophies matter, that’s in the nature of the sport. But sometimes you have to take a step back before you jump two steps forward. 2020 wasn’t easy and 2021 is looking equally as exhausting and challenging. But it’s also necessary.

Already, in a season that may seem full of pain, anger and disappointment, we’ve seen glimpses of what’s to come. Players like Pedri, Frenkie de Jong and Ronald Araújo rising to the occasion to guide us to a better future. That future may also be without Lionel Messi, the one player who embodies this club the most.

The future, even without Leo, does look bright. (Photo by Fran Santiago/Getty Images)

But we should also remember Pep had to lose, or rather let go of Ronaldinho to kickstart his great overhaul. Both players were and still are icons of the club but a new era requires new heroes and new leaders. So even if Messi leaves this coming summer, the world won’t suddenly stop, nor should Barcelona’s strive for greatness.

In March, a new president will get elected and the foundation for a better future will finally be set. It will take time and it won’t suddenly solve all of our problems.

But it will give us a push that we oh so need. Barcelona’s rebirth is just around the corner.

Don’t give up hope in the moment of our greatest triumph.

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