Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman’s relationship with young midfielder Riqui Puig is in the spotlight once again following an explosive report that the Dutchman accused the 21-year-old of leaking information in front of the entire squad.
Koeman advised Puig before the start of the new campaign to go out on loan in order to play more regularly and subsequently did not even include the youngster in the matchday squad for the club’s Joan Gamper Trophy fixture against Elche in September.
The information swiftly became public which led to Koeman confronting Puig in front of the entire locker room and telling the youngster “you’re a leak,” according to Juan I. Irigoyen at El Pais.
Puig is a fan favorite at Barcelona and supporters were furious after news emerged that the La Masia graduate was not in Koeman’s plans for the 2020-21 season. The hashtag ‘RiquiNoSeToca’ (Don’t touch Riqui) even trended on Twitter in Spain.
The youngster subsequently decided against taking Koeman’s advice and has remained at the Camp Nou. He told Radio Cope in October that he thinks he can force his way into the team under Koeman.
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Barcelona Players Divided Over Koeman
The report also claims that the locker room was split over Koeman’s behavior towards Puig. Some players were said to be impressed with the coach’s bravery and his attempts to rid the squad of harmful attitudes, while other members of the squad didn’t understand why Koeman did not react in the same way when Luis Suarez spoke about how the new coach had called him to tell him he wasn’t part of his plans.
Puig has since struggled for game time at Barcelona and has not made a single start for the club this season. The youngster has managed only three minutes in La Liga, as a late substitute against Getafe, but has played three times in the Champions League.
An impressive cameo in midweek against Juventus drew praise from Koeman in his pre-match press conference ahead of Sunday’s visit from Levante, but it remains to be seen if Puig will feature in what is a must-win match for the Catalan giants after defeats to Cadiz and Juve.
Koeman ‘Feels Supported’ By Locker Room
Koeman was asked about his relationship with his squad ahead of Levante and hit out at speculation there is unrest among the players over his tactics and his 4-2-3-1 formation, as reported by ESPN.
That is not true, it’s a lie. The players would have said. We speak. I feel supported by the players. If I didn’t have their confidence, I wouldn’t be able to do my job. So I feel comfortable, although worried about the situation in the league, as any coach would be. We must improve things.
Yet the Dutchman’s methods will come under more scrutiny if results and performances do not improve quickly. The Catalan giants have endured their worst start to a league season since 1987-88, according to Opta, and head into Sunday’s match only three points clear of the relegation zone.