Tired of football and probably everything, Gareth Bale (Cardiff, age 33) made the move to Los Angeles from the Santiago Bernabéu. Lionel Messi (Rosario, 35 years old) dreams of retiring in Miami. And Sergio Busquets (Sabadell, 34 years old) ponders what his future holds in MLS. In the country where the big stars are shutting down their football, Riqui Puig (Barcelona, 22 years old) begins to shed light on his future at the Los Angeles Galaxy. Without Xavi’s confidence or the interest of European teams, the Quarry’s final illusion consumed his stage at the Camp Nou the way everything is consumed in modern times: at the speed of a spool.
In the complex accounts of the first team, local players have always been viewed with greater condescension. Especially in times when the dressing room at La Masia is managed by seasoned footballers. It happened, for example, during Ernesto Valverde’s phase at the helm of Barça. In Txingurri’s last full season, 2018-2019, Barça captains were Messi, Busquets, Sergi Roberto and Piqué. In this campaign, Miranda, Chumi, Cuenca, Collado, Ruiz, Carles Pérez, Ansu Fati and Riqui Puig rose to the first team. The difference between the landings of Fati and Puig was striking. While the Hispano-Guinean was embraced by the dressing room (aside from a few bad faces from Messi), the Catalan was viewed with suspicion (apart from all the good faces from Piqué).
“Ansu comes in club clothes and Riqui in Gucci,” recalls a club employee. Clothing as a symbol of attitude. “Ansu also has branded clothes, of course, but he didn’t want to attract attention,” they explain from those close to the international with Spain. Arriving in the Camp Nou dressing room with the posh label coined as protector of style and protected by a certain sector of the press, Riqui Puig was smothered by the first-team dressing room. It was not a new situation for the youth team. His time at Barça B was not a harvest of great friendships either. During his first year at the subsidiary, they warned him, “Numbers will be dialed by seniority.” Rick replied: “Yes full el deu“. The 10 was held by Carles Pérez. The following year the same story. But the star shirt was taken from Collado.
“He was never a manager in the branch,” they explain at Ciudad Deportiva. He didn’t have the complicity of his colleagues or the affection of the staff. In fact, they had dubbed him Benito Bodoque, after the character of Don Gato, because of his fine timbre of voice. At Barça B, the on-pitch fights between Riqui Puig and Collado were famous (during one match, a referee warned them he would throw them both out), as was the rivals’ anger towards Puig. “How much do you earn?” I always asked her. “You will see that when you come to our stadium,” they replied. Riqui, always friendly to the press in the mixed zone, complained about the treatment: “They give me a lot of kicks,” assured the youth squad, who began his career as a professional in Second B.
At La Masia, Riqui Puig only caught the eye when he played for Juvenil A. “Then the physicist started accompanying him,” explains a youth football coach. He has never stood out like he did in the Youth League that Barça conquered in 2018. His time at Barça B was inconsistent. “He understands the game like no other and looks pretty good for life with his physique,” recognized García Pimienta, then coach of the Barça subsidiary. In the eyes of the fans, Riqui seemed made to dress like a Barça player; However, the coaches noticed certain flaws in his game: “He loses a lot of balls.”
His stats didn’t improve in the first team. He played 57 games (15 of them as a starter) and lost an average of 4.5 balls per duel. “A modern footballer is much more than three tricks and a good pass per game. Only Messi can be accepted not to commit defensively,” says a member of the technical secretary. Valverde didn’t back Riqui, neither did Koeman. Quique Setién threatened to protect him and Xavi said enough. The technician who could understand it best was the one who understood it the least. His CV took him away from European football. Today, the United States find a place to stay. Nobody will judge you by your clothes or your timbre anymore.