Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman has finally opened up and offered his thoughts on French defender Samuel Umtiti and young midfielder Riqui Puig.
The duo both struggled for game time under Koeman during his first season in charge and have not managed a single minute of action so far in 2021-22. There have even been reports Koeman has advised the duo to leave the club.
The Dutch coach has now been asked about the futures of both players at the Camp Nou and offered his thoughts in an interview with Mundo Deportivo’s Fernando Polo.
“The coach always looks for the strongest team and each player has their opportunities and can show the coach in training that he deserves more opportunities. If not, it is the technician’s decision because there is competition. One in the center of the field, because there are many players, and the other in the defensive position, some time after his injury,” he said. “It’s working and working, and Umtiti tries to get the most out of training. And in the last two weeks, with the preseason we have done, physically he is better than last year. And if he is physically well, Umtiti is a very good central defender. And Riqui has to improve things that we have talked about during the preseason.”
Umtiti was expected to leave in the summer but requested to stay for another season, according to Marca. Barcelona president Joan Laporta pointed out Umtiti’s lack of game time in a meeting between the two but agreed he could stay after the defender burst into tears and explained Barca’s medical staff had not treated his injury correctly.
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Laporta Denies Asking Koeman To Play Puig
Laporta spoke about Puig on Monday in an interview with TV3 and responded to rumors he had told Koeman to offer the midfielder more minutes, as reported by Football Espana.
Laporta said, “I have never said he has to play. I may have said I like him, like I like Collado, but I will never pressure my coach. I ask the coach ‘how is this one’ or ‘how is another one’. I don’t want to lose a homegrown talent.”
Puig is popular among supporters who have been baffled by Koeman’s reluctance to offer the midfielder first-team opportunities, particularly as he has been willing to trust other young players such as Gavi, Nico Gonzalez, Oscar Mingueza, and Yusuf Demir.
Pique Backs Umtiti
Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has also been talking about Umtiti this week and has leapt to the defense of his teammate. Umtiti was booed by some sections of the Barca support during the Joan Gamper Trophy, with fans seemingly angry at the defender’s reluctance to leave the club in the wake of captain Lionel Messi’s shock exit.
Pique told La Sotana that Umtiti does not deserve to be heckled by fans and also praised his attitude and commitment to the club, as reported by Marca.
“[Umtiti] is fulfilling the contract with all obligations. People have to be empathetic. The attitude is impeccable. He has never missed a training session. Another thing is who signed the contract, a president who was voted in by the members,” he said. “Why shall we whistle at him? Most people have been in a company for 30 years and do nothing. If I were at another club, for example [Manchester] United, I would be doing the same as Umtiti. Every situation is different. I only ask people to be empathetic.”
It’s still difficult to see Umtiti and Puig playing regularly this season. Umtiti faces stiff competition for a place in the backline with Eric Garcia, Ronald Araujo, Gerard Pique, Clement Lenglet and Oscar Mingueza all ahead of him in the pecking order at the Camp Nou.
Meanwhile, Puig clearly still has work to do to earn Koeman’s trust. The emergence of talented teenage midfielders such as Gavi and Gonzalez may also make it even harder for Puig to break into the team in 2021-22.