La Masia: Riqui Puig


When it comes to Cules putting their hope in youthful players, Ricard (Riqui) Puig certainly looks the part. The diminutive midfielder stands at just 1.69 meters (5'5") and has a juvenile exuberance in his smile whenever the cameras are around. Yet on the pitch, he has spent a little more than the last year going from largely unknown prospect to one of La Masia's highest rated youngsters.

The 19-year-old was born in Matadepera in Barcelona, about an hour northwest of the Camp Nou. His boyhood club was UFB Jabac Terrassa from the age of nine through fourteen. His father Carlos had played at left-back for Terrassa FC, a club relegated from the Segunda Division B last season, so any chance of playing against his father's former club with Barcelona B will have to wait.

He made his professional debut for Barca B last February against Gimnastic, but his star shone brightest in the Juvenil A's campaign in the UEFA Youth League. His fluid work in the middle of the park alongside Alex Collado and Alejandro Orellana put Chelsea on the back foot. Their English opponents were chasing the game before FC Barcelona put three past them to hoist the title.

Like many of his Juvenil A teammates, Puig signed a professional contract this offseason that ties him to the club for the next three seasons along with raising his release clause to 100 million euros. Rumblings that Tottenham was buzzing around promising first team football and interest from Mauricio Pochettino was not enough to tempt the teenager away.

Instead, Ernesto Valverde took Puig and a number of his Barcelona B teammates to the United States for the first team's preseason tour. Puig and left-back Juan Miranda were the standouts among the youngsters, and the two teenagers have been training regularly with the first team since the season began. The midfielder will be registered with Barcelona B and be a regular starter in the third division, but Valverde has shown his hand that a few appearances with the first team this season should not come as a surprise. Ever the pragmatist, Valverde's plan for Puig is defined. "He'll be with the B side and, if he continues on the same path and shows that he deserves it," Valverde said, "he'll have an opportunity with us." Under the tutelage of Francisco Javier Garcia Pimienta, Puig took a major step with the Juvenil A squad and having both coach and player move up together should pay dividends for the first team. After his meteoric rise in publicity, it's no longer just well-studied Cules that are watching Puig.