MADRID (AP) — Spending more time with Barcelona’s reserves than with the first team hasn’t been a bad thing for young American winger Konrad de la Fuente.
De la Fuente said Wednesday that playing for Barcelona’s “B” team has helped him develop and will ultimately give him more chances to play alongside the Spanish club’s big stars.
“It was the club’s decision, they thought it was best for my progression for me to play regularly every week with the ‘B’ team, but train with the first team every day,” the 19-year-old U.S. international said. “And I think it was the correct decision because I feel a lot better right now.”
De La Fuente was born in Miami but came to Barcelona’s famed “La Masia” academy in 2013 after his family moved to Spain. He made his first-team debut in a Champions League match last year, when the regular starters were rested.
He played in a second Champions League match in 2020, and in January made his third appearance for the first team in the Copa del Rey. Barcelona won all three matches De la Fuente played, though he didn’t score and always came off the bench.
He started to train regularly with the main team this year and traveled with the squad to several matches. But that meant missing matches with the “B” team and it ultimately kept him without many minutes with either squad. Barcelona’s “B” team plays in Spain’s second division.
“It’s not really easy to be in this position, you know, because as a soccer player you want to be playing,” he said. “So at the beginning of the season I wasn’t playing much with either team because I would travel with the first team and then I would miss a “B” team game and, like, two weeks later I’d play with the “B” team (again). So it was pretty difficult to get me into a rhythm of games and minutes. But now I’ve been playing regularly for a good 10, 11 weeks and I feel really good.”
And while playing with the reserves has helped his game, De la Fuente said it doesn’t compare with the experience of being with the club’s top players — including Lionel Messi.
“It’s incredible being with the first team, training with them every day, learning from the best players in the world, especially Messi, he is one of my idols,” De la Fuente said during a virtual roundtable with journalists. “And it’s been really great learning from him and from all the other players. And I’m really thankful because they helped me as well.”
De la Fuente said he quickly noticed the differences between both squads.
“I realized that the intensity of first division is higher than what I’m used to,” he said. “As well defensively, you have to work harder.”
De la Fuente said he has become “really good friends” with the club’s other American, defender Sergiño Dest, who has been a regular with the first team since joining from Ajax last season.
“Right now with COVID there’s not a lot of things to do, but yeah, we eat sometimes and do things together,” he said.
De la Fuente last year agreed to a two-year contract extension with Barcelona through the 2021-22 season. The deal included a pair of club options and a buyout clause of 50 million euros ($60 million). The buyout clause would double if De la Fuente was promoted to the first-team roster.
De la Fuente, who will turn 20 on July 16, made his debut with the “B” team in Spain’s second division in December 2018. He got his first start in December 2019 and scored his first goal in February 2020.
He played for the U.S. national team in a friendly against Wales last year.
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