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SSFC Spotlight: Konrad de la Fuente faces departure from Barcelona

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The winger could leave the club this summer.

RCD Espanyol B v FC Barcelona B - Segunda Division B Photo by Pedro Salado/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

Following 120 minutes of play, FC Barcelona B lost to UCAM Murcia in a penalty shootout, missing out on promotion to the Segunda División. With the Spanish pyramid undergoing a massive restructuring, the club’s reserve team will compete in the third-tier Primera División RFEF next season. Konrad de la Fuente played a key role in the campaign, particularly during the second stage, contributing four goals and two assists in six matches. The 19-year-old winger appears to have outgrown his current level but is unable to break into the first team, an understandable barrier given the constant conveyor belt of talent. Amid a steady stream of transfer interest, the time may have come to leave Catalonia and seek a higher level, especially if he has designs on making the World Cup roster.

De la Fuente was born in Miami, but moved to Spain when his father has hired by the Haitian consulate in Madrid as a commercial attaché. Playing at Marcet and local Catalonian club CF Damm, he was scouted by the Blaugrana and joined La Masia in 2013. According to The Guardian, coaches praised him for his preternatural ability to understand the game at a young age. His academy career was almost derailed by a potentially serious issue with his legal documentation that resulted in a temporary ban, but eventually FIFA approved his registration.

Progressing through the various youth levels, local observers tagged him as a potential future star due to his “devilish speed adorned with a sublime change of rhythm,” scoring prowess, and ability to play on both wings. The Guardian named him to the annual Next Generation list of the “best young talents in world football,” while the club praised him as “the typical Barça wing” possessing “the American work ethic and the Spanish soccer mentality.” He received his first call-up to the reserve team in 2018, playing 12 minutes in a 2-2 draw against Valencia B.

The next season was something of a breakout year. In the UEFA Youth league, he scored three goals. He was then added to the reserves and was a key player during the promotion playoff run. His two goals in the quarterfinal round secured advancement against Valladolid B and an assist in the semifinal helped take down CD Badajoz. Barcelona would lose in the final, denied a spot in the second tier, which would have provided a higher level of competition for the developing player.

Last summer, the club signed him to a contract extension lasting through June of 2022. The deal features a two-year option and a splashy €50 million release clause that could rise to €100 million. Manager Ronald Koeman included the young winger in preseason training and inserted him into several cup fixtures. He made his first-team debut against Dynamo Kyiv in the Champions League, playing seven minutes in the 4-0 victory.

De la Fuente would make three total appearances, unable to get off the bench for the first team in La Liga. Looking at potentially another season of third division competition, the best move for his career may be to leave. He could possibly remain at the club to at least experience the new leadership as Koeman is reportedly set to be let go once “a successor is in place.”

The constant back-and-forth between the first and second team is a challenge, but de la Fuente believes it was beneficial to his off-ball movement and overall ability. “At the beginning of the season, I wasn’t playing much with either team because I was travelling with the first team and then I would miss a B-team game,” he said a few weeks ago. “They really thought it was best for my progression for me to play every week with the B-team but train with the first team every day. I think it was the correct decision because I feel a lot better right now.”

As expected for a player raised by La Masia, there has been no shortage of interest over the years. Amid stalled contract negotiations in 2019, a move to Hertha Berlin was discussed as a possibility. Last September, Borussia Dortmund emerged as a potential suitor, along with Bayern Munich, Girona, and multiple Dutch and French outfits. Recently, ESPN reported that the club prefers a transfer instead of a loan and will entertain offers for de la Fuente in order to “raise money for incoming [players],” with “several clubs in Spain and Germany” interested. For now, he remains a Barcelona player, but the next step in his development likely requires a change of scenery.

At the international level, de la Fuente has been a consistent presence at various youth levels for the United States, beginning with the U-14s. He played in all five matches at the 2019 U-20 World Cup, a run that ended in the quarterfinals against Ecuador. His first USMNT call-up came last fall, making his debut in the scoreless draw with Wales. Although Gregg Berhalter did not name him to the 27-player roster that will take on Switzerland, the manager has expressed admiration for ability to “inject moments of real quality.”

De la Fuente is a dynamic right-footed left winger that loves to run at defenders and cut inside, a constant threat when charging into the final third with blistering pace and taking on opponents. Also capable of playing striker, there was speculation of a shift to fullback, but no move or reports of experimentation ever publicly surfaced. Barcelona coaches praised him for his bravery and willingness to “try things.” As one expects from a La Masia graduate, he has strong technical abilities and a firm understanding of tactics.

His game is visually appealing, featuring all of the tricky dribbling that typically fills out highlight videos. Vince Massara of Soccer Cards Rock produced a scouting report on de la Fuente’s overall style, observing that the young American has “a great first touch that he can use to create space” and tries to run into the top corner of the penalty box “every time he gets the ball.” Shot selection is an issue, often ignoring the existence of “a better passing option” to launch a hit from a difficult angle. Past management at Barcelona has also noted the need to develop a greater scoring touch. which would help him become a more complete attacker. Still a teenager for a few more months, there is plenty of time for growth and years before the theoretical prime of his career.

Yet another American player at a crossroads, de la Fuente appears likely to leave Barcelona for the first time in his career. At 19 years old, his future club could profoundly alter his trajectory, for better or worse. The ideal situation would provide opportunities with the first team while allowing for mistakes as his development continues. With the fortunes of players constantly changing, he could be squarely in the national team picture with a few months of good form, just as the World Cup cycle is reaching a crescendo.