Barcelona will come to rue letting Marc Cucurella depart the club’s academy
There were scouts and coaches at Barcelona in 2018 who had seen enough of Marc Cucurella coming forward through the club’s youth team to believe that not only did he bear a passing physical resemblance to Carles Puyol, but that he could reach the same level .
There were others in the club who had different ideas. They believed it could be loaned out and eventually sold to bring in much-needed income. Jordi Alba was their first choice as a left back. It made more sense to just give him a new deal and cash on “Cucu.”
His steady rise since then is a testament to his positive attitude to life outside Barca, and justification for those who thought the club made a huge mistake in undervaluing him.
The Brighton left-back has joined Chelsea at the south coast club on a big-money transfer
He stood out as a kid because of the Puyol style mop-top hair and that was partly the intention.
He had wanted to cut his hair at one point, but his mother Patricia asked him not to, so she could easily pick him out in youth competitions. The idea that it helped him stand out persisted. It reminded people of one of his heroes, Puyol, and it made sure that no one who saw him play forgot about him.
Even when directors whispered, ‘why isn’t he getting a haircut?’ he resisted, although by then his football alone was making people take note.
Born in Catalonia, Cucurella was first picked up by Espanyol before moving to their neighbors Barcelona, where he broke into the club’s B-team in the middle of the 2016-17 season and helped them get promoted to the second tier of Spain.
His emergence created a dilemma and caused another of Barcelona’s big transfer mistakes from this era.
The defender was let go cheaply by Barcelona and they are likely to regret their mistake
They had the ever-present Alba as their first-choice left-back and felt that the then 18-year-old third-choice left-back Juan Miranda (now at Betis) could replace the rare times when needed, helping them make money. from Cucurella.
He was 20 and wanted to play top football. They felt Miranda would be more patient.
The club gave Miranda a new contract – they also gave Alba a huge new five-year contract that they would have to pay for later after the pandemic battle – and they started monetizing Cucurella.
Some Barca youngsters are afraid to try life outside the club and take the greater chance that the opportunity will come one day at Nou Camp.
Midfielder Riqui Puig is an example. He has turned down the chance of being loaned out in Spain in recent seasons and could now move on to MLS at the age of 22.
Scouts at Barcelona not only compared the defender to legendary player Carles Puyol, but they also believed he could reach a level comparable to the tough Barcelona player if he stayed close.
The intrepid Cucurella plunged into life outside Barça.
He first moved to Eibar, where the club’s coach at the time, Jose Luis Mendilibar, quickly hired him.
It was not difficult as he wanted to learn, improve and expand his skills beyond just the Barça way of playing.
In one game against Real Madrid, Cucurella was Eibar’s man of the match with three assists when they first made club history by beating them. His energy, direct gait and power were the driving force behind the famous victory.
Mendilibar said after that match: ‘He is the smartest in the class. He’s not fast, he’s not strong, he’s a footballer, he is. He is smart. He makes the right decisions.’
It’s not that Cucurella lacks pace and power, but Mendilibar’s point was: don’t be fooled by the all-action style, he also has a big brain.
Cucurella took an unconventional path, leaving Barcelona in search of first-team opportunities elsewhere, first heading to Eibar and then playing for Getafe
Gerard Lopez who coached Cucurella at Barça B makes the same point. He told El Pais: ‘On a physical level if he has to run through a brick wall, he will; very much in the style of Puyol. But he has something that many don’t see: he is more refined than people think. He could also play in midfield in a 4-3-3 if he had to.
“He has that energy, but also the ability to stop and think. He could play the ball better than Puyol.’
In that one impressive season at Eibar, where he often played forward as a left-sided midfielder, he scored a goal in every competition, including one in the league against Barcelona.
Barça bought him back for a pre-agreed €4million (£3.3million) in 2019 but only so they could resell him to Getafe for €10million (£8.4million) and it was there where he learned a different style of football.
Under Jose Bordalas, Getafe was a physical team that played a percentage game of early dangerous long balls into the opposing half. It couldn’t have been further from the style of football he had played as a boy at Barcelona, but he embraced it and won his move to England.
Thomas Tuchel has made Cucurella his latest summer signing as Chelsea bolster their defence
When Brighton took over Cucurella from Getafe for £18million, Barcelona received 10 per cent of the fee, but that’s little consolation for keeping a player who would now be a key signing for the first team out of their grasp.
The club was looking for a left back this summer with an offer for Marco Alonso.
Cucurella would be an important part of Xavi’s puzzle if they kept him. He would be a competitor for Alba and as his coaches testify, he could play in other positions.
They missed it and now he’s playing Champions League football with Chelsea instead, after they sealed the deal on Wednesday night.