Every professional footballer is chasing the dream of becoming the best, and for much of his career, Konrad De La Fuente was the rare player who seemed ready to live them out at the very highest level. He joined La Masia, the famous academy of FC Barcelona when he was only 12, and gradually rose through the ranks in the hope of a place in the first team squad.
Until he did not. Admittedly, De La Fuente did it longer than most and scored three first-team matches — two in the UEFA Champions League — as well as extensive time with Barcelona B in Spain’s second row. But there was also the fact that he made the bench for the first team 18 times last season with a minute in league play. Despite rubbing elbows with Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique, his ceiling, at least in that moment, had been reached.
So De La Fuente pursued another path this summer, securing a transfer to Ligue 1 side Olympique Marseille, and rather than feeling like he had given up his Barca dream, it’s more of a dream come true. Just 20 years old, there is still time.
“I am an ambitious person, so for me it was not that hard to leave [Barcelona], “he told ESPN by telephone while in international service with the United States in early September.” My goal is to end up playing for Barcelona one day and I know the best way for that to happen was to leave because I need to get the first division minutes.
“I had some great deals – I chose to go to Marseille. The best thing I could have done for my development was to start getting professional minutes early, to grow as a player and hopefully one day come back to Barcelona.”
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The summer of 2021 was not the first time De La Fuente felt the itch to move on. In early 2020, there were reports of Bundesliga interest, but the powers in Barcelona convinced Miami natives to stay. Later that year, newcomer manager Ronald Koeman considered himself a fan. But the 2020-21 campaign proved difficult, and not just because of the lack of LaLiga minutes. De La Fuente jumped between the first and second teams; if he did not play for the first team on Saturday, he would come home with Lionel Messi & Co. at 4, to then meet with Barca B and play for them on Sunday.
De La Fuente felt he could not serve two teams well, and asked to be allowed to focus his playing time with Barcelona B, and the coaching staff agreed.
“My routine changed a little bit,” he said. “If they were sure I had no chance to play with the first team this weekend, I would just stay at Barca B that Saturday and train with Barca B. So on Sunday I just played. That way I got to play consecutive games without skipping anyone, and that [continuity] really helped. “
De La Fuente actually ended the season with six goals in 22 league games with Barca B – not that Marseille needed much convincing when the summer transfer window opened.
De La Fuente had caught the eye of Marseille president Pablo Longoria when the director was sporting director of Valencia, and the player’s availability revived that interest. From there, a phone call between De La Fuente and Marseille manager Jorge Sampaoli convinced both sides that they would benefit from the move. Sampaoli was won by De La Fuente’s attitude and felt he had the work ethic required to succeed, while the player was convinced the former Sevilla and Chile manager could move his career forward. Given Barcelona’s struggles with financial difficulties, the price was also right – a relative trade of $ 3.5 million.
“It’s not a failure. It’s the reality of being in one of the big clubs,” said current Houston Dynamo manager Tab Ramos, who coached De La Fuente with the U.S. U-20 national team. “That’s how it works. You’re usually going to end up in another big club. If you’re not good enough, you’re clearly not doing it. He’s got to a big club now, and I think that’s incredibly positive.”
In some ways, De La Fuente’s personalities on and off the field seem contradictory; he is softly spoken away from the game, but boasts the necessary competitiveness and confidence when the whistle blows. Ramos is reminiscent of a player whose impression was more of a slow burn than a lightning bolt, a performer who won him a little at a time.
These days, De La Fuente says he has refined his approach. He’s about duels. And win them.
“Every player, I think, has his own little ‘game in the game,'” he said. , creates chances and scores. “
It is this area that Sampaoli is trying to highlight even more. De La Fuente recalls that in moments when he feels he needs to slow down the game – something Barcelona tend to do at times, for strategic purposes – Sampaoli asks him to ignore these instincts and keep attacking.
“He wants me to push the ball forward every time I get the chance,” De La Fuente said. “Stay open when I get the ball, push the other team’s defense back, go 1-on-1. Create scoring chances as much as I can. If I’m in training and I try to play single, he says, ‘no “every time I need you to keep going, ‘so it comes naturally in the games. I will not stop.”
Two assists in three league games point to a rapid acclimatization process, though there are still things to learn in Sampaoli’s quirky 3-3-1-3 formation. It has helped that defender Alvaro Gonzalez, who himself came from LaLiga in 2020, has taken De La Fuente under his wing and he is also linked with Arsenal’s loaned midfielder Matteo Guendouzi.
“So far, it’s been really good for me,” De La Fuente said of the move. “I’m really happy.”
His club is not the only place to adjust; the same is true of De La Fuente internationally. He showed glimpses of his ability in the U.S. 0-0 draw with El Salvador, especially early in the second half. But there were also times when he drifted out of the game and he admitted that there were some aspects of the chaos in CONCACAF that have taken some getting used to.
“I think the speed of the game is slower, but from a competitive point of view, I think it’s different,” De La Fuente said of the World Cup qualifiers at CONCACAF. “Here it’s like a match every match. In Europe it’s more controlled. Not to minimize our opponents here, but in Europe there is more technical quality and also in the opposing team. In CONCACAF, opposing teams are not as technically good as European teams, so they make up for it in other ways.Against El Salvador, every 50-50, guys come up a bit with their buds up, two-foot tackles all the time.All [loose] balls, they will go in with the elbows facing up. “
He added: “All the little details make the difference.”
Now De La Fuente is back in Marseille, where further experience in Ligue 1 as well as the Europa League – they visit Lokomotiv Moscow on Thursday – entices. So do his dreams.
Additional reporting and information from Julien Laurens and Sam Marsden