It’s been three long years since Gennaro Gattuso called Barcelona’s Riqui Puig “spectacular.”
The then 18-year-old certainly looked like the quintessential La Masia graduate, while his frolicking moves, sharp running and inch-perfect strides elevated him to a man-of-the-match show against AC Milan.
It remains his best moment in a Barca shirt, and that really includes why he must now leave his youth club if he is to try his pro career.
Ronald Koeman’s attitude towards him this year leaves him in no doubt that there is no future for him with the blaugranes.
Let’s not pin this all to Koeman though.
Quique Setien before him and Ernesto Valverde before that were equally enthusiastic about Riqui.
Perhaps it is as much a matter of attitude as it is of application. After all, Koeman has previously hinted that there is a huge ego at play that belies the player’s lack of importance to the team.
Of course there will always be those culers who believe that if he was never given the chance then how on earth is he supposed to show what he can do.
There’s some truth in that, but you can count on the fingers of one hand how many times he’s influenced a game when given the chance.
The only one that quickly comes to mind is January 2020, when he shows up late in Setien’s first game against Granada.
That match was nothing to write home about and headed for a boring 0-0 draw on a freezing cold night – believe me I was there – and then Riqui came and warmed the crowd with his cameo, Leo Messi scored the winner .
However, I can’t think of any other games where he’s done anything remarkable, and therein lies his problem. He is too light and not decisive enough in the big moments.
Pedri, four years his junior, has been clearly more effective from the start, while Frenkie de Jong and Sergio Busquets are not easily ousted from their own midfield.
Even if one of the three is not available, there are plenty of other options available to the manager – for example Sergi Roberto, Philippe Coutinho, Nico Gonzalez and even Gavi.
Even on his debut against Getafe, Gavi looked like he had been playing in Barca’s midfield for years. There was a natural flair to his game, which is now missing from Riqui’s, who constantly tries too hard and therefore forces things.
His ship has long since sailed, and this bloodthirsty will to emerge victorious in a will-do battle with the manager only makes his own personal situation worse.
Admit defeat, Riqui. Your time is up.