Riqui Puig has moved from a fan fan to Lionel Messi’s teammate in five years and now 20-year-old livewire is ready for a pivotal role in Barcelona’s attempt to overhaul Real Madrid in LaLiga
- Puig came off the bench to inspire Barcelona to a crucial 1-0 victory over Bilbao
- Attracting 20-year-old Puig made the Barcelona display more dynamic
- Lionel Messi accompanied Puig when he left the academy
- And Puig could play a key role in the title race with top-notch players out
In 2018, when Riqui Puig was first called up to the Barcelona squad for the first team, Lionel Messi made sure to take special care of him.
Something about the small midfielder made him think that he got into the club through the various ranks of youth, overshadowed by older boys who had developed faster to grow taller and stronger.
He had met Puig five years earlier. There’s a photo of the pair together from 2013. Messi in his splendor and Puig, just a 14-year-old fan, albeit one with a bright future.
Puig, then 14, poses for a photo with Lionel Messi as he passed through the academy
Now the pair are teammates in a Barcelona team that is challenging to keep their league title
Two weeks ago, the pair were teammates and both made a huge contribution to a 1-0 win that seemed to keep Barcelona in the title race.
Messi hadn’t let his head down when it seemed the team would be refused the home win they needed. And it was Puig’s 55-minute introduction that brought Barcelona to life, enabling victory – assured by Ivan Rakitic.
Getting him in for Arthur Melo with 35 minutes left was like raising the speed dial on the team’s performance level.
“Their entrance gave us dynamism and it shows that they can both play important minutes between now and the end of the season,” said Setien van Puig and fellow sub Ansu Fati.
“I recently told Riqui to Leganes,” continued the manager, who has since let go of the teenager in the wake of Frenkie de Jong’s injury.
Puig’s introduction from the bench in the second half sparked Barca’s performance
The 20-year-old was not afraid to get stuck, as they picked up three valuable points
That’s exactly what many of the club’s supporters have been pushing for him for a long time.
Luminaires in Barcelona
July 5 Villarreal (A)
8 July Espanyol (H)
July 12th Valladolid (A)
July 15 Osasuna (H)
July 19 Alaves (A)
“It was a strange game because we could hear all the fireworks,” said Puig after the victory over Athletic.
The game had a surreal feel as the night of June 23 is always marked by a fireworks festival in Barcelona.
Usually they were hardly noticed, but in an empty stadium, every pass and tackle in the second half seemed to be accompanied by a bang or a buzz.
Barcelona’s problem at the moment is that there is no spark on the field. Puig’s introduction made such a difference because the team was so flat before entering.
He was modest after the game when he said, “They lowered their rhythm so we had more time to take control of the game and move the ball from one side of the field to the other.”
But Barcelona got through the gears late, precisely because Puig delivered a speed of thought and movement that had been deprived when Arthur was on the field.
It is easy to see how Arthur finds it difficult to concentrate. Barcelona urgently needed someone to sell someone before the end of the month to balance the books and signed a deal with Juventus in which Artur went one way for around € 80 million (£ 72.2 million) and Pjanic the other goes for around € 70 million (£ 63.2) m) – with the money earned on both sides from the sale in this year’s accounts.
He doesn’t want to go, but he feels that he has little choice.
Arthur Melo (left) is on his way to Juventus with an agreed transfer of £ 72.5 million
But even before Arthur became the man to sell Barca (not long ago he was the next Xavi) he started looking too slow for the team’s supposedly fast-moving midfield.
“I am very happy with the minutes I get. And if we win and play at a good rhythm, even better. I just want to give this club luck, ‘said Puig on Tuesday.
The clever young thing that won and grew up in the UEFA Youth League in 2018 seeing his hero Xavi ping the ball around the Camp Nou is exactly the type of player the average Barcelona season ticket holder wants to see on the team.
He has no agent and has no intention of leaving the club to be loaned. The question is whether he would thrive elsewhere.
He looks like one of those players who will make it in Barcelona or not at all. Despite all the critical acclaim in Catalonia, he has never played for any of the Spanish youth teams.
It’s the Barca way he knows best and just as that famous identity is under threat, supporters want to trust him to protect it, make it flourish and use it in the future.