Quique Setien's arrival as Barça coach is good news for LaLiga's newest Rising Star.
Barcelona fans and pundits worldwide are very excited about Riqui Puig, the latest rising star to emerge from their club’s La Masia academy, with Quique Setien’s arrival as Blaugrana coach likely to give the 20-year-old a further opportunity to display his talents in LaLiga Santander.
Many around the Camp Nou expect locally-born Puig to bring a new injection of ‘Barca DNA’ into a midfield previously graced by multiple LaLiga winners Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta. Like those other famous La Masia graduates Puig is not the biggest – just 1.69m – but has a natural talent, vision and personality to dictate a game.
Ricard 'Riqui' Puig Marti was born on 13th August 1999 in Matadepera, a town located very close to Xavi’s birthplace Terrassa. Puig’s father Carles was a player with Terrassa in Catalonia’s lower divisions, and Riqui began playing with his hometown club's youth sides before being recruited by Barça’s La Masia academy aged 14.
Progress was rapid there; by February 2018 he had made a professional debut for Barcelona B in the third tier aged just 18 years and six months. That same season he came to wider attention by starring in the UEFA Youth League, contributing three goals and three assists as Barça won the trophy beating Manchester City in the semi-finals and Chelsea in the decider.
2018/19 saw Puig really establish himself as a key figure for Barça B, playing 32 times throughout the season. His potential to go much higher was clear from regular flashes of skill and vision, and a way of carrying the ball confidently through tight spaces which recalled a younger, slighter Iniesta.
Clips of such moments shared via social media saw the teenager become hugely popular among millions of devout Blaugrana fans worldwide, who also winced when the youngster suffered aggressive challenges from opposition defenders who did not enjoy close-up glimpses of his skill.
Previous Barça coach Ernesto Valverde gave the talented youngster a LaLiga Santander opportunity late in the 2018/19 campaign, with starts against both Huesca and RC Celta when the title had already been secured. Through the first half of 2019/20 however, his first-team path was blocked by others in the senior squad, even after he turned 20 in August, although he regularly starred for Barça B.
However, new coach Quique Setien made his admiration clear by naming Puig in his squad for his debut match in charge, against Granada at the Camp Nou in mid-January and sending him on for Ivan Rakitic with the game still scoreless and to be decided midway through the second half. Within five minutes the youngster had regained possession by pressing high up and set in motion a passing move ended by Blaugrana captain Lionel Messi firing to the net for the winning goal.
Setien has a reputation for trusting young playmakers from his stints at Las Palmas and especially at Real Betis, where Dani Ceballos and Fabian Ruiz grew into senior Spain internationals. And the style of play which Puig has learned through his development at La Masia, and especially his quick feet and even quicker thinking, looks well suited to the new coach's Johan Cruyff-influenced tactical approach.
Barça is not, however, badly stocked for midfield options, with top internationals Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong, Arthur Melo, Arturo Vidal and Rakitic also available. Puig must be aware that Iniesta and Xavi both showed patience during their early careers. While also remembering that time is on his side, and the natural talent and Barca DNA of LaLiga's latest rising star will surely shine incredibly brightly.
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