One can no longer find novelty in the presence of American players in top sides across Europe.
In recent decades the number of American players plying their trade in Europe has grown. But what’s been most impressive is the megalithic rise of the level of individual quality. First Time Finish covered the rise of soccer in the US earlier this month and concentrated on the recent emergence of players like Chrisitan Pulisic, Weston McKennie and Giovanni Reyna. One man who could follow in their footsteps is Konrad de la Fuente of Barcelona.
An Untrodden Path
Nineteen-year old de la Fuente became the second American to turn out for play La Blaugrana’s senior team against Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League. This is an incredible footnote to this story considering the stature of both Barcelona and America, and adds intrigue to Konrad’s own path to reach the Camp Nou.
This niche honour is not lost on the player. Speaking to the club’s YouTube channel this summer he said:
“It is my goal to become the first American to play for Barcelona. When I first came here it was always my dream to be successful, to make it to Barca B and then the first team. So far it is going well for me.”
He has impressed for Barca B, scoring three goals in six matches in the Segunda B last season. Before stepping up a notch this year, with currently five goals and two assists in his last five games.
Notably however these performances have come from the left wing, showing excellent ability to cut inside and beat the full back.
With Ousmane Dembélé’s struggles, and Antoine Griezmann’s ineffectiveness from the left, that left wing spot has been a troubled area for the club. De la Fuente’s emergence as well as that of Ansu Fati go a long way to rectifying this issue in the future.
Aside from being potentially the second American to play for Barcelona, de la Fuente’s journey speaks of many irregularities. First being his move to Spain.
His father relocated the family from Miami to Catalonia when Konrad was just eleven, assuming a role in the Haitian consulate within the region. Here Konrad would start playing for local side Club de Football Damm (CF Damm). The club’s alumni include Aleix Vidal and Christian Tello, both going on to play for the Barca first team.
His coach for the Under 12s during the 2012/13 season was Alex Gomar. Konrad would join the famed La Masia Barca academy at the end of this season, and Gomar recalls a player of supreme talent.
Speaking to First Time Finish, he said: “He had marked differences for a player of his age, and this is why FC Barcelona would sign him that year.”
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Konrad de la Fuente: the player
The modern technological age of football is such that academy prospects can be watched by millions on the internet. No longer do fans need to wait to see a young talent in the first team. It is likely that their youth level skills and highlights have been compiled for a highlight reel.
de la Fuente is much the same. Video packages show him burning full backs both inside and out with rapid pace, often cutting inside to fire efforts at goal. These are some of the attribute Gomar remembers best.
“Konrad did not stand out for his height nor his breadth, and neither was he the most skilled at that age. In ‘one v one’ scenarios however he was ale to take advantage and look for goals. He was right footed but he also had a powerful left foot.”
“Interestingly he was not really a winger at that age either. He was more of a right footed attacking midfielder who could also play inside.”
Whilst Konrad de la Fuente is undoubtedly a wide attacker now, it is interesting to see that in his formative stage he played in a more creative sense centrally. If there is a club for wide players to prosper creatively, few come close to Barcelona.
A Huge Step
Whilst CF Damm are prestigious in their own right, in playing in the highest youth division in the region and producing professional players, the move to La Masia is one few will take.
The breeding ground of royalty. Messi, Fabregas, Pique, Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta. There is a cultural significance to coming through this route, perhaps even more so than being signed by the first team.
These aforementioned names carry enormous pressure, with each player to resemble them dubbed their successor. With this can come crippling responsibility, and unreasonable expectation. Gomar’s recollection of de la Fuente perhaps show of a mind suited to such pressure.
“Konrad was professional, dedicated, disciplined and an obedient player at this age. Despite being one of the top scorers in the team he was always prudent, and was super introverted and humble.”
These qualities do not scream of a player nor person of self importance. Even if one has been signed by the most prestigious academy in the sport.
De la Fuente’s Future?
When discussing a player of such tender age (he is still only nineteen), it is ludicrous to map out their future. International stalwart? Sure, give it a couple years. Loan spell away? Probably necessary.
Where this roadmap will take de la Fuente is impossible to say. He is making waves at a time of club turmoil. The Messi dynasty is still unresolved and could come to a somewhat ugly conclusion, ad the fact that the Cruyffian-Guardiola identity is ebbing further into the ether.
The likes of Riqui Puig, Ansu Fati and Konrad de la Fuente offer fans a glimpse of what might be on the horizon. When asked about which players he has been most impressed with, new manager Ronald Koeman named the young American outright during pre-season last summer.
It is unlikely this will result in a regular first team run anytime soon however. With Fati’s emergence on the left side and his imminent return from injury, Koeman is more likely to play a front four of Messi, Fati, Griezmann and Coutinho, it might serve the youngster to seek minutes elsewhere.
Neighbouring Girona have been linked, allowing the club up close viewing of his progress. Rumours linking him to Hertha Berlin are particularly exciting given the league’s recent record of catalysing young superstars.
It seems inevitable that this unique story will take its next step into the elite game very shortly. Given the talent Konrad de la Fuente has already shown, and the unique slice of history that he carries with him, it is a story many will all too soon know about.
Alex Gomar was a youth team coach at CF Damm, thank you to Alex for providing his insight into Konrad’s youth career.
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