He was only on the pitch for 35 minutes, thrown on as a second half substitute with the game already won by then, but that was enough for Riqui Pique to catch the eye of everyone inside Camp Nou on Wednesday night. Long hyped as Barcelona’s next best thing, this was a glimpse of the future for the Catalan club.
There was something Xavi-esque about the display Puig put in against Cultural Leonesa, particularly his run and chipped through ball for Barcelona’s fourth goal on the night. Sure, it might have been against third tier opposition, but it takes a lot of ability for a player, any player, never mind one 17 years old, to command the Camp Nou turf like Puig did.
Alongside Carles Alena, Barcelona fans were afforded a glimpse of what their team’s midfield of the future might look like. The Catalans have struggled to find players good enough to replace Andres Iniesta and Xavi, with Paulinho, Arturo Vidal, Arda Turan, Denis and Rafinha all given a shot. While Paulinho proved himself to be a decent option, and Vidal has played a lot in recent weeks, nobody has come close to filling the void.
Arthur has, so far, proved to be an astute signing, joining Barcelona from Gremio in the summer. Over time, it’s possible that he could form a midfield unit alongside Alena and Puig, who is still maturing. This could be the platform that sustains Barcelona in the post-Lionel Messi age.
What’s more, both Alena and Puig represent a recovery to the ways of old for Barcelona. The path from La Masia to the senior team has been walked by few in recent years, with the Catalan club instead splurging hundreds of millions on players in the transfer market.
Alena and Puig are both players forged from the Barcelona mould. They look like Barcelona players, they play like Barcelona players. Not since Thiago Alcantara has a midfielder looked like such a natural fit for the Catalan club. Now, Barca must ensure they don’t undervalue them and lose them to Bayern Munich.
Puig has been linked with a number of elite clubs, with Spurs the latest to be reported suitors for the teenager. Mauricio Pochettino took in a Barcelona B game during the international break, raising speculation that he could make a move for Puig, taking advantage of the contract regulations that leave Spanish sides at a disadvantage when it comes keeping teenagers.
Barcelona must do all they can to keep Puig. Not for years has a young prospect so clearly represented the future of the club. The era of Messi will one day come to an end and with the Argentinean now 31 Barca must start making plans. Puig is one of the players they should plan around. His 35-minute performance in the Copa del Rey demonstrated that.
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