Teamwork makes the dream work

LA Galaxy can supply ex-Barcelona prospect Riqui Puig a reset after struggles, teaching carousel

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It has been a summer time switch window that few in Main League Soccer will neglect. By no means earlier than has the league welcomed so many European stars directly, by no means earlier than have so a lot of these world-class gamers had a lot left within the tank, and by no means earlier than has the league really been a participant within the world switch market.

Mexico star Hector Herrera becoming a member of the Houston Dynamo FC from Atletico Madrid was headline information for ‘El Tri’ followers. Gareth Bale signing for LAFC from Actual Madrid shook the worldwide sport. Toronto FC recruiting not one however two stars of Italy‘s Euro 2020 triumph, in Lorenzo Insigne and Federico Bernardeschi, is poised to show the desk the other way up.

And but, maybe the switch that’s most intriguing, perplexing and filled with potential, is the LA Galaxy signing Ricard Puig from Barcelona. The 22-year-old midfielder was deemed to be the subsequent large factor to return out of the membership’s famed La Masia academy a mere three years in the past, however that potential went unfulfilled, and he now strikes to Los Angeles on a free switch.

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To clarify why issues by no means got here collectively for Puig within the Catalan capital, and the way the Galaxy envision the midfielder becoming into Greg Vanney’s first XI, we requested ESPN correspondents Sam Marsden and Jeff Carlisle to interrupt down this deal from each angle.

Why his Barca breakout by no means got here

Puig’s Barcelona profession promised large issues, however finally led to disappointment. It is exhausting to gauge how a lot of that’s his fault and the way a lot is all the way down to expectations deposited in him by supporters determined for a brand new star to emerge from the membership’s La Masia academy.

On the pitch, his youthful look and slender physique all the time made him stand out. He was 18 when he made his debut for Barca Atletic within the Spanish second division initially of 2018, however he seemed extra like a mascot as he stood on the sidelines ready to return on. As he was pushed residence by his mum after the sport, not one of the autograph hunters gathered exterior the Mini Estadi recognised him.

That anonymity wouldn’t final lengthy. Puig helped Barca’s Underneath-19s beat Chelsea 3-0 within the remaining of the UEFA Youth League and he quickly turned the star of the reserve workforce, his passes between the traces and skill to glide away from markers paying homage to different midfielders to have come off the membership’s manufacturing line. In the summertime of 2018, he toured the United States with the primary workforce, deliciously scooping the ball over Christian Eriksen‘s head in opposition to Tottenham Hotspur and incomes reward from AC Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso after going through the Italian aspect.

“Though [Barca] have gamers that appear like children, they contact the ball with such magnificence,” he mentioned.

Regardless of that, first-team minutes solely got here in dribs and drabs: a full debut within the Copa del Rey on the finish of 2018 and a LaLiga debut the next yr. Some on the membership wished then-coach Ernesto Valverde to make use of him extra, although Puig was a good distance down the pecking order, behind Arthur, Sergio Busquets, Frenkie de Jong, Arturo Vidal and Ivan Rakitic, amongst others.

That modified with the dismissal of Valverde initially of 2020. New coach Quique Setien began to provide Puig probabilities and whereas there have been some good performances, particularly in a sport in opposition to Atletico Madrid, he was an unused substitute within the Champions League in opposition to Napoli and Bayern Munich. Setien was sacked following that notorious 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich and, to the shock of many, his substitute Ronald Koeman rapidly informed Puig to exit on mortgage to play common soccer. He resisted.

This was maybe the second when his personal decision-making started to price him. He began simply two league video games in 2020-21 at an age when he wanted to be enjoying recurrently to be able to develop. The next summer time, Puig once more ignored Koeman’s recommendation to go on mortgage as their relationship additional deteriorated, and the end result was one other wasted season. Not even the appointment of Xavi Hernandez modified the scene. Many thought the membership legend returning to Camp Nou — himself a La Masia-developed midfielder — could be constructive for Puig, however the actuality is there are simply so many higher midfielders on the membership.

As Puig’s progress stagnated, Pedri was signed from Las Palmas and have become a direct starter. Gavi, who turned 18 this month, has additionally come into the image. Busquets and De Jong stay, Sergi Roberto is most well-liked, and Franck Kessie and Pablo Torre have been signed this summer time.

With hindsight, it is easy to recommend that the hope positioned in Puig was all the way down to Barca’s desperation to have a brand new homegrown star — the emergence of gamers like Gavi and Ansu Fati has since satiated that need — however that is additionally barely unfair. Puig does have great expertise and potential, however it isn’t a coincidence that every one 4 of his coaches at Barca, together with Setien when it actually mattered, haven’t picked him.

For all his high quality on the ball, there have been questions on his defensive skill in a midfield three, and a few tendency to change off when Barca do not have the ball. It is nothing that may’t be labored on, and nobody would rule out a return to the membership sooner or later, however Puig has lots of misplaced time to make up for.

Why Galaxy went all-in and the way he’ll match

The Galaxy have been in quest of a playmaker all season, whereas Puig was on the lookout for extra enjoying time. Whether or not it finally ends up being an ideal match on the sector remains to be unclear, however on paper, each participant and workforce appear like they assist one another to a major diploma.

That the Galaxy had been capable of land a participant of Puig’s pedigree actually raised some eyebrows — and even invited some skepticism — across the league. Puig won’t command a Designated Participant spot — an excellent factor because the workforce had already used the utmost of three (Javier “Chicharito” Hernandez, Kevin Cabral, Diego Costa) allowed. It helped that Puig arrived on a free switch, however his wage, which per league guidelines cannot exceed $1,612,500 per yr, quantities to a major pay lower.

However to listen to the Galaxy clarify the deal, the match checked off lots of containers. In line with Galaxy technical director Jovan Kirovski, the seed was first planted with Puig’s representatives 4 months in the past. No deal was agreed on the time, however it gave Puig time to get used to the thought of heading to L.A. Three weeks in the past, talks began up once more and this time, a deal received carried out.

“I believe crucial factor for [Puig] was enjoying,” Kirovski mentioned. “He believed within the undertaking, and the child wished to return. We had what we had out there, and so they wished to make it work.”

The truth that the Galaxy have former Barcelona participant Victor Vasquez on the roster (Vanney had labored him whereas in Toronto) and needs to play a progressive fashion had been additionally pluses. Kirovski identified that Barcelona nonetheless owns 50% of Puig’s rights, and the deal to ship midfielder Rayan Raveloson to newly promoted Ligue 1 aspect Auxerre for round $2 million after arriving on a free switch the yr earlier than additionally confirmed that the Galaxy could make Puig’s dream of at some point returning to Europe a actuality.

“The opposite large factor is the place our league is now and what it has turn into, exhibiting [Puig] that younger gamers can come right here from overseas, whether or not that is South America or Europe, and nonetheless have a pathway to return to Europe,” Kirovski mentioned. “That was the second factor that was main. These two issues put collectively had been important on this switch.”

When it comes to how Puig will match into the Galaxy’s system, Vanney says he’ll be an attacking midfielder, both as one of many superior central gamers in a 4-3-3 or as one in every of an attacking midfield trident in a 4-2-3-1 “nearer to the striker.” Vasquez has performed that function at occasions this season, however at age 35, is slowing down and is not capable of play each sport. Puig’s skill to ship the ultimate cross is what the Galaxy has been missing and is what Vanney hopes Puig will present.

“He is very conscious, the ball strikes rapidly off of his foot,” Vanney mentioned about Puig. “He performs and he strikes and he will get the ball in new areas. And he has an eye fixed and is creating an eye fixed for the ultimate cross and the ultimate motion. I believe he’ll have extra alternatives with the Galaxy and within our league, simply to be extra of an influencer on the ultimate actions.

“Possibly he does not have that function so particularly at Barcelona, per se, which is a really unique class of participant. However he’ll actually have that freedom to develop that a part of his sport and proceed to develop that a part of the sport within the Galaxy with an excellent core, youthful group of gamers as nicely.”

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