In December 2018 when a 19 year old la masia protege make his debut, coming on as a 55th minute substitute no one would’ve imagined how things would turn out for the young Spaniard.
In just thirty minutes of play, Riqui Puig made thirty passes, got an assist and made three recoveries against Cultural Leonesa.
After the game he said :
“I came to Camp Nou when I was three years old,” Puig said after the game. “I’ve been a Barça fans since I was little. Imagine how excited I was. My debut was a dream come true.”
Then manager, Ernesto Valverde was even more satisfied, saying :
“Riqui Puig is a difference-maker, he is always looking ahead,” Valverde said. “We hope this is just a first step, and that he’ll keep on doing what he does with the ball.”
Puig has been at Barcelona since he was 14 and has played in almost every category if not all.
Prior to his debut, there’s been talks about a new generation midfielder with the technical qualities of Andres Iniesta and the tactical brilliance of Xavi coming up through the ranks.
After his debut, it was obvious, this kid is another star in the making.
Fast forward a couple of years and Riqui Puig has struggled to get minutes from virtually all the managers that’s coached Barcelona even the man who gave him his debut.
WHERE IT ALL WENT WRONG
If there was ever going to be a breakthrough year for the young midfielder, 2018 would’ve been the year.
After playing against AC Milan in the ICC tournament, then Milan coach Gattuso reckoned Riqui was spectacular and a delight.
When you watch the young midfielder play, his quality and potentials are obvious and endless, but why exactly has he found playing time difficult to get.?
After making his debut, Puig would return to Barcelona B and hardly featured in first team games until Qique Setien took over from Valverde.
The Spanish coach believed in the youngster and Puig played his best football that season. He was arguably Barcelona’s midfielder in the second half of that season.
His link up with Leo was excellent, his vision, techniques, understanding if the game and decision making is typical Barcelona DNA.
He probably is the last and only midfielder remaining who embodies the entire Barcelona model and philosophy.
Puig has shown what he’s capable of if given the opportunity but luck hasn’t always been on his side.
When Ronald Koeman took ever, he made an example out of the midfielder and made it obvious he wasn’t in his plans and should be sent out on loan.
His stature, framework and possibly strength is the reason Koeman preferred Illiax Moriba as the coach loves physical players in that department.
Puig loves Barcelona, so he refused to go out on loan, determined to stay and fight for his chances.
Things went from bad to worse when the coach introduced Nico and Gavi from the B side and placed them ahead of Puig in the pecking order.
Cules were of the opinion, the mangers personal issues made him biased and were optimistic Xavi would give him the chances he deserves.
Font once said in an interview that Xavi told him Puig would be a starter if he’s coach.
Xavi is here and Puig is still last in the pecking order. Truth is, it is understandable for Xavi to stick with what’s been giving result before he arrives.
Barcelona are at a critical point in their season, Xavi cannot afford to experiment or gamble because at this point playing Puig would be a big one.
WHY HE SHOULD MOVE ON
Moving on would be the best thing for Riqui especially. He wasn’t too impressive in the last game he started and that’s probably why Xavi hasn’t given him more chances.
Truth is, Puig is in desperate need of playing time. He’ll get better when and if he plays and he can’t get that at Barcelona now.
Puig would’ve brought a different dimension to Barcelona’s midfield, something that’s clearly been lacking.
Gavi, Nico and Pedri are spectacular but Puig is something different, Puig is special, the way he plays is typical Barcelona and it’ll be sad to see him wear another clubs Jersey.
Losing Puig might turn out to be like an Alcantara case someday but until then to save his career and future, the young midfielder needs to let go of his love for the club and look somewhere else.