Over the years, Barcelona’s prestigious academy has produced several promising talents. One of them being Eric García, who has spent four years developing under Pep Guardiola. With the early signs showing immense prospect, could a return of Eric García be the permanent solution to the defensive requirements of Barcelona?
When you see a youngster massively respected and appreciated by one of the most decorated managers in the footballing world, then there’s something special there. Pep Guardiola, who is loved and revered by the Barcelona enthusiasts across the globe, has shown immense faith in 19-year-old centre-back Eric García. The teenager is said to have a prodigal understanding of the game. He has harnessed his abilities under Pep since 2017.
Although the opportunities have been slim, the development under the Spanish tactician is being monitored by Barcelona. The world is aware of how Guardiola deals with upcoming talents. He makes them understand the need to be patient while simultaneously providing insightful tidbits as and when required. His famous arm around the shoulder treatment has been received well by several youngsters who enjoy working with him.
“Eric is a guy who likes to know the reason why. He is a guy who, if he makes a mistake, he quickly understands why. Sergio Busquets was like that when he was young”
Pep Guardiola on Eric García
In addition to midfield gem Phil Foden, Guardiola has been closely paying attention to the growth of Eric García. He has been giving both youngsters more opportunities since the restart, as the Premier League is pretty much done and dusted with Liverpool already crowned champions. The fans have been showering immense praise on Foden and García for how they have seized the moment to showcase their talents. With Barcelona keen on signing Eric and bringing him back to the Camp Nou, the expectations over the teenager have skyrocketed.
Why Eric García?
For starters, excitement is the first thing that signing the Spanish Under–21 international would bring. Every single club’s fans enjoy watching a youngster flourishing in their first-team. The Catalans have seen the rise of Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig, which have risen the expectations on what the academy can provide. Bringing in Eric García would be another youthful addition to an ageing squad. With a majority of the first teamers in their thirties, adding a teenager to the mix would increase the youthfulness.
A youngblood like Eric would be fired up to impress the fans, and thereby give more energy to the team. Furthermore, there is a clear need for more options in the defensive department. As we all know, Gerard Piqué is 33 and isn’t getting any younger. He has already shown inconsistency in his form, despite still being the undisputed leader of the azulgranas‘ backline.
Even if Piqué has the legs to go on as Barcelona’s first-choice centre-back for a few more years, there’s a need to look at the reality. Gerard needs a replacement on the long run. Even if he can go on and play every game, he needs to have a backup who can take the mantle from him. The upbringing of Ronald Araújo is also a reason to be hopeful for the future. However, the more number of young centre-backs integrated into the first team, the merrier.
Eric García has been growing in leaps and bounds under Pep Guardiola | Photo by Simon Bellis / Sportimage via Imago
The defence, notably centre-back, is one of the most critical positions at any club. Teams always look to establish a defensive partnership between two players who are hardly ever changed. Any other position, including the goalkeeper, can be rotated without affecting the team. Nevertheless, the centre-backs form the foundation of the XI. Moreover, for Barcelona, these players are not only involved in regular defensive duties. They must also understand the nuances of build-up play.
It takes time for any player to fully comprehend the Barcelona way. And that is why it is more suitable to bring in Eric García when he is at a development phase. He has already been nurtured with the club’s philosophy at a very young age, and his growth under Pep would have only been a boost. Manchester City has a similar style of play to that of Barcelona. And so, García would not require more tailoring when compared to centre-backs bought from other clubs.
Is Eric as good as they say he is?
The hype around Eric García is bound to raise questions over whether he is actually good enough. But in his case, he has been praised for the right reasons. Irrespective of whether he’s playing or not, Eric reads the game fantastically. His ability to understand the game from numerous tactical standpoints has seen him grow a maturity beyond his age. At just 19, he has already begun to work on his coaching badges, indicating that he wants to become a manager in the future.
On numerous occasions, García had even shared his tactical insights and observations to Guardiola. The former Barcelona manager was surprised and awestruck with the depths of Eric’s understanding. And so, at such a tender age, the knowledge he has gained has seen him become a highly technical player. Whether it’s on or off the pitch, a player like him would do a huge favour to Quique Setién.
“Three years ago, four years ago, I started thinking that I would like to have the coaching badges for in the future. That’s why I started doing the first course, and then, once I finish this one, I will go for the second one”
Eric García on taking up coaching badges
Coaches love to work with players who emulate high levels of tactical understanding. They appreciate footballers who can read the games and provide a different perspective. Eric’s work ethic makes him an enjoyable talent to work with. Bringing him into Barcelona’s dressing room would be a huge statement to the existing youngsters. Even if the senior players may seem to show an amount of toxicity towards fresh faces, they would certainly encourage someone like Eric García.
In his eight games so far for Manchester City in the Premier League, Eric has an 80% success rate while facing dribblers. By making smart blocks, interceptions, and clearances, he has shown signs of his quality in whatever brief periods he has played. Playing alongside world-class and experienced footballer like Aymeric Laporte and Fernandinho has allowed him to gain insights from some of the best defenders.
In his four starts for Man City in the league, he has had over 100 touches on two occasions. As we know, Guardiola loves to involve his centre-backs a lot in the attacking phases, and for that, they must be confident with the ball. García is calm and composed when he receives the ball. Eric isn’t hot-headed despite being just 19 and weighs his options before making a pass. He has had a 100% pass receiving accuracy in four out of eight games, highlighting how relaxed he is while dealing with the opposition’s pressing.
Since he is only just entering into the highest level of football, there isn’t a lot of statistics to back his abilities. Notwithstanding, the numbers he’s putting up so far has indicated signs of massive promise. With six games left in the league, the youngster is likely to receive more starts. Having already played against the current champions Liverpool in their recent 4–0 drubbing, Pep is giving Eric opportunities even against the best sides. There is no reason why Guardiola won’t be aiming to tie him to a long-term contract at Man City.
Barcelona wanting Eric García back is a good sign. It’s an indication that the board has been paying attention to the development of the La Masía graduates. That said, there is a chance that Pep would block the Catalan outfit from signing him. As we have already seen how the regime treats the youth, the Spaniard might not want Eric to join them immediately. With Getafe’s recently-signed Marc Cucurella being the prime example of the board’s rough handling of promising talents, Guardiola wouldn’t want García to go through the same plight.
With Pep likely to stay for another season at the Etihad Stadium, he would definitely want to continue to oversee Eric’s development. With Fernandinho ageing, Nicolás Otamendi inconsistent, and John Stones non-existent, Eric might even break into the first-team. Guardiola has already rewarded players like Phil Foden for his patience by integrating him into the squad. With García being another youngster he rates highly, there is no reason why he won’t be featuring more alongside Laporte next season.
Either way, Barcelona should make an attempt to sign him. With an ageing squad, an introduction of youthfulness is mandatory. Be it in this window, or a couple of years later, they should look to acquire Eric’s services. Having already missed out on Matthijs de Ligt, they shouldn’t be letting go of the opportunity to sign yet another promising talent when the time comes.
Three potential loan destinations for Riqui Puig
Barça Universal takes a closer look at three clubs who could latch-up fan-favourite Riqui Puig on loan this January as the youngster is in the hunt for more playing time.
For all the numerous rapid changes taking place in the world, there seems to be the one constant: Riqui Puig just can’t manage to get minutes under his belt. For all the hype built around the talented prodigy at the back end of last season, Ronald Koeman seems reluctant to budge.
Before the commencement of the season, the Dutchman asked Puig to go out on loan to get as many minutes of game time as possible. The youngster blatantly refused, confident that he would indeed get his chance to impress. Yet, more than two months into the season and the 21-year-old has only seen 11 minutes of action.
Undoubtedly, he is at the age where he needs continuous playing time to grow and develop as a footballer. There is a growing sentiment that going out on loan to continue playing and developing remains the best bet for Puig. Losing his permanently, though, would be a huge mistake. Barça Universal takes a look at three potential teams the youngster could go to in order to earn some much-needed playing time under his belt.
Nine games into the season and Unai Emery’s men find themselves trailing league leaders Real Sociedad just by the two points. Sitting proudly at second, the yellow submarines have had just the one loss so far, which came against Barcelona.
A glance at the Villareal midfield, however, provides interesting findings. Undoubtedly, Dani Parejo has been the leader in the middle of the park. Samuel Chukwueze, Gerard Moreno and Moi Gomes being the go-to options at wide midfield.
The chance to learn from Dani Parejo will be massive for Puig. (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)
However, apart from the 29-year-old duo Francis Coquelin and Manu Trigueros, the options seem feeble. On the occasions when Vincente Iborra has played, the team has operated in a 4-1-4-1. This too opens up another spot for a creative midfielder.
Though Villareal has averaged close to 60% possession this season, they have only scored ten goals from open play in nice games. With just over two big chances created per game, there is a need for a midfielder who can break the lines, yet fit into the plans Emery has for the club.
The midfield as a unit has failed to conjure up opportunities, reflected by the fact that the captain Mario Gaspar has created the most ‘big chances’ while playing out from the right-back position.
Riqui Puig could fill the holes in Unai Emery’s side. The youngster could comfortably slot into a role alongside Parejo and replace the likes of Coquelin or Trigueros. His high press and comfort on the ball make him an ideal candidate for the Yellow Submarines.
Additionally, Barcelona stands to gain too, with the player staying in the Spanish first division and gaining invaluable minutes. It would be a deal that works out well for the player too, as he would avoid the hassle of moving to a new country. Could this be a win-win?
Bayer 04 Leverkusen
The Leverkusen based side sit at fourth in the Bundesliga and are currently among the handful of unbeaten sides in the top five leagues. They play a similar style of possession-based, football, powered by swift attacks, much like Luis Enrique’s Barcelona. They play a very organized game in possession, with meaningful forward progression of the ball given paramount importance.
Peter Bosz’s fluid attacking style of football will easily accommodate Puig, even if the language barrier is problematic. (Photo by Pool/Getty Images)
Peter Bosz has exclusively fielded a 4-1-4-1 in the Bundesliga, but the 4-2-3-1 has come into the equation for the Europa League fixtures. The team aim to capitalise on short central passes by establishing a numerical superiority in the midfield and the halfspaces. Leverkusen requires its players to be tactically well versed with tremendous composure on the ball; something Puig possesses in spades.
Bosz has had to rotate among Florian Wirtz, Kerem Demirbay, and Nadiem Amiri as his creative midfielders. The departure of Kai Havertz to Chelsea has seen them lose a key component of their midfield creativity.
With €20M signing Exequiel Palacios not particularly impressing, and Paulinho out for several months after rupturing his ACL, taking in Riqui Puig on loan may prove to be a masterstroke,
The most unlikely of the three options, but the most glamorous and promising one. Manchester City has endured a tough start to the season, languishing six points behind league leaders Leicester. They have some of the most skilled midfielders, with the likes of Kevin de Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Rodri in their ranks.
Yet, there seems to be a void created by the departure of David Silva, which they have been unable to fill right now. City have been associated in recent years with ruthlessly thumping in goal after goal. Now, however, they stare at just nine goals from open play in seven encounters in the league.
Puig may not be a starter at Manchester City. Yet, even appearances off the bench would be an upgrade to his treatment at Barcelona. The idea of working with Pep Guardiola, who just signed a contract extension, and learning from some of the best in the business in de Bruyne would prove to be a tempting option for Puig. It is certainly the least likely of the three, yet the most exciting.
Learning from Pep Guardiola and Kevin de Bruyne, albeit on loan, is too enticing to pass up on for Puig if the chance ever arrives. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
At the age of 21, Riqui Puig cannot while away the key years of his development on the bench. It is heartbreaking that there seems no other option. Yet, given how firm Koeman seems on his decision, maybe a move-out, hopefully only on loan, would be in the best interest of both Barcelona and Riqui Puig.