SAN JOSE, Calif. — AC Milan coach Gennaro Gattuso hailed 18-year-old Barcelona midfielder Riqui Puig as “spectacular” after his side beat Barca 1-0 on Saturday.
Puig has been one of the stars of Barca’s tour of the United States, impressing against Tottenham in Los Angeles and producing a fine second-half display against Milan at Levi’s Stadium.
Coach Ernesto Valverde has said the plan is for Puig to continue with the B team for now, but his performances in the International Champions Cup may change things.
Daniele Massaro, who scored two goals for Milan when they beat Barca in the 1994 European Cup final, asked for his shirt after the game and compared him to Andres Iniesta.
“Riqui is spectacular,” Gattuso said at his postmatch news conference. “Even though they [Barca] have players that look like kids, the way they handle the ball amazes me. It’s the beauty of football. It’s like poetry.
“I heard about him a while ago, and about some of the other kids at the club. It’s the kind of thing you can’t really copy and paste. It’s something that takes years to do. It’s how they feel the game.
“So it’s a beautiful thing, but a very tough thing for others to copy. They don’t play with a tactical model, it’s more of a common idea. Needless to say, I am very jealous of the Barca school.”
Massaro added: “He plays with real personality, always with his head up. We could be looking at the new Iniesta.”
Puig only made his debut for the B team in February but quickly caught the attention of Valverde, who called him up to train with the first team in April.
The midfielder made his non-competitive debut against Tottenham in Los Angeles last week, coming on as a first-half substitute for Andre Gomes and scoring in the penalty shootout.
Talking about the praise pouring his way, Puig said: “Sometimes it’s best to leave that stuff to one side and focus on the day-to-day. I’m really happy, but now it’s time to return to Barca B, which is my team.
“It’s been a new experience, something which I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid, and he [Valverde] has given me that chance. If he calls me up again, I will be ready, but my job is with the B team.”
Asked about his conversation with Massaro, he added: “I knew a little bit about him, my Dad’s spoken to me about him a little bit.
“He told me he liked how I’d played and asked if he could have my shirt. As for [the Iniesta comparison], at 18, that’s a long way away, but matching what he’s done is impossible.”