The decisive penalty for Barcelona was scored by a player who has not a single match at the start. Who is he?
After Antoine Griezmann launched the ball over the crossbar, Barcelona’s fifth penalty was no longer a formality again. I went to beat him Ricky Pooch – a footballer who has never entered the field from the first minutes this season. He calmly spread the ball and the goalkeeper in different corners – as if he was used to such pressure more than the world champion and third world player of 2018.
Puig’s composure is even more surprising when you consider the context. He is not just a substitute who was entrusted with the decisive blow. He has a long and difficult background.
Throughout the season Ronald Koeman consistently pursues a team rejuvenation policy. In all tournaments, he has already released 11 players aged 23 and under. Some got decent playing time due to injuries like Minges and Araujo, but even when everyone was healthy Koeman showed that he was counting not only on dear Frenkie de jonga, but also for less status players. 18 year old Pedri displaced from the base Coutinho (and generally made me forget about the Brazilian), Serginho Dest – first choice for the right-back position. Ansu Fati was the main one until he got injured. Usmane Dembele basically always, if you’re ready to play. Even Trinkauwho seemed to be a stunt double Dembele, gets playing time: 15 appearances in the example and four matches in the base in the Champions League. But there is one young player who is not concerned with all this. Puig scored only seven substitutions and 120 minutes of playing time in all tournaments.
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Puig is the star of Barça B and is simply a favorite of kules. He already has more than two million followers on his Instagram – a slightly insane number for a guy who hasn’t played even 10 more matches in the base. This gives an idea of how popular it is. This popularity has more than just a playful explanation. Ricky is his own. The house where he was born is a couple of kilometers from the house where he was born Xavi… Their families are familiar, so that Ricky could sit on the lap of the Barcelona legend at the age of four. In the photo he is on the right.
Xavi not only took pictures with the boy, but also followed his football career. “He is proof that La Masia works,” Xavi said. – It reminds me of the time when I played here myself. He has this DNA. “
For a Catalan, taking a DNA test from Xavi means receiving the most powerful moral support possible. Perhaps that was the problem: Puig was too media-driven, his future as a club star looked too obvious. But there were also problems.
At 15-16, he played against older guys, and at 18 he shot in the UEFA Youth League. Barcelona won the tournament, won nine out of ten matches, conceded goals in just two, while Puig scored three goals and three assists while playing in the 8 position. It’s just that even such a great start does not cancel the laws of physics – and the laws of big football.
With a height of 169 cm and a weight of less than 60 kg, Puch’s disadvantages are a natural continuation of his advantages. He has excellent starting speed and coordination, he perfectly passes opponents in tight spaces, and his passing technique is excellent even by the standards of a Barcelona academy graduate. Plus reading the game: Pooch is great not only on the ball, but also in understanding the team movement, he always knows what to do even before he gets the ball. But it also weighs 10 kg less. David Silva, which (for the same height) is not exactly a strong build. Or 10 kg less than Xavi.
A paradoxical situation: a player with obvious inclinations of a star and a ready-made noisy fan base, as well as clearly feeling himself a star – but so fragile that, for example, renting him out to the team is not an option. The Puch set is allowed only in one style of play: with total possession of the ball and total pressure. That is, on the one hand, his data personify the traditional values and style of Barcelona, and on the other, he simply cannot play in any other style.
Photo: Alex Caparros / Getty Images
Probably, difficulties with the transition to adult football for such a player are inevitable. But the Barcelona leadership did everything to aggravate these difficulties. Puig was stuck at Barça B in Segunda for two years. The style of play of most teams in this division can hardly be called suitable for a guy with such anthropometric data, with the same success it could have been sent to the FNL.
When Ernesto Valverde Barcelona really moved away from the canon style, but was still closer to it than Segunda. And training with a foundation is an important component of a young player’s progress. And most importantly: even now, under Kuman, Barcelona also do not play the very football for which Xavi is nostalgic. This does not prevent the coach from at least letting the player train with the base. Although they started with a conflict.
Problems with Koeman
According to El Pais, in September Koeman, in front of the entire team, accused him of leaking inside information to journalists. Because of this, Puig was not included in Barcelona’s bid for the Joan Gamper Cup. Although the likely conflict happened a few months ago, information about it did not appear until December. Koeman did not deny it. “There is a lot of media interest in him because he is local. But there are other young players who are lacking in practice and are looking for support in the press, ”in fact, he even confirmed the newspaper’s hints.
Even if Ricky is abusing his popularity and communicating too much with the press, this may not be the only explanation. Perhaps Koeman’s initial desire to get rid of the player – as well as the ignorance on the part of Valverde – is due to the position of the previous leadership. Under Bartomeu, 20-year-old Puig continued to stay at Barça V. Perhaps Koeman, who just a week ago hinted again that the player would be better off on loan, simply does not see him in the football that he bets – much more focused on physics, than with the same Kike Setiene or Luis Enrique.
The reasons Pooch is not playing are completely non-transparent. Even when Koeman says that the midfielder needs to gain muscle mass, that’s not all: when Puig enters the field in the position of eight or an attacking midfielder, he instantly gives the game momentum. At least by the number of standards: he is fouled every 11 minutes in Example (most often) and every 25 minutes in the Champions League. But fouls, of course, are not the only reason he is useful.
Photo: David Ramos / Getty Images
Ricky grew up with the feeling that he is a big star, so he is incredibly confident in himself. Where the trinkau makes the simplest decision, he makes the most difficult. Plus – the Barça schools. Where Coutinho will make three touches, Puig will not make a single one at all – because he knows how to avoid pulling on the ball and maintain the command structure.
In half an hour of extra times with Real Sociedad, Puig managed to make 25 passes (the second result on the field), deliver two hits and dribble three times. And, of course, earn a free kick. And then, when the kickers were determined, he himself said that he wanted to hit the last. Koeman told about it after the match. And he admitted that the blow was very good. Not a bad effect of the game in half an hour.
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So far, Koeman is coping well with many of the difficulties at Barcelona. But if he continues to keep Puig in reserve and insist on his departure, it will be difficult to find a rational explanation for this.