There were scouts and coaches at Barcelona in 2018 who had seen enough of Marc Cucurella coming up through the club’s youth team to believe not only did he bear a passing physical resemblance to Carles Puyol, but he could go on to reach the same level.
There were others at the club who had different ideas. They believed he could be loaned out and eventually sold to bring in much needed revenue. Jordi Alba was their first choice left back. It made more sense to just give him a new deal and cash on ‘Cucu’.
His steady rise since then is a testament to his positive attitude to life beyond Barça, and vindication for those who reckoned the club were making a big mistake in undervaluing him.
Brighton left back has joined Chelsea from the south coast club in a big-money transfer
He stood out as a kid because of the Puyol-style mop-top hair and that was partly the point.
He had wanted to cut his hair at one point but his mother Patricia asked him not to so that she could pick him out easily at youth matches. The idea that it helped him stand out endured. It reminded people of one of his heroes, Puyol, and it made sure no one who watched him play forgot him.
Even when directors whispered: ‘why doesn’t he get a hair cut?’ he resisted although by then his football alone was making people take note.
Born in Catalonia, Cucurella was first picked up by Espanyol before moving to their neighbours Barcelona where he broke into the club’s B-team in the middle of the 2016-17 season helping them win promotion into Spain’s second tier.
His rise created a dilemma and provoked another of Barcelona’s big mistakes in the transfer market from this era.
The defender was let go cheaply by Barcelona and they will likely come to rue their mistake
They had the ever-present Alba as first choice left back and felt that the then 18-year-old third choice left back Juan Miranda (now at Betis) could deputise on the rare occasions that it would be necessary, allowing them to make money from Cucurella.
He was 20 and keener to start playing top flight football. They felt Miranda would be more patient.
The club gave Miranda a new contract – they also gave Alba a massive new five-year deal that they would later post-pandemic struggle to pay for – and they began to monetise Cucurella.
Some Barça youngsters are afraid to try life outside of the club and take the longer odds that the chance will come at the Nou Camp one day.
Midfielder Riqui Puig is an example. He has turned down the chance to go out on loan in Spain in recent seasons and could now be heading for MLS aged just 22.
Scouts at Barcelona not only likened the defender to legendary player Carles Puyol but they also believed he could reach a similar level to the Barcelona stalwart if he stuck around
Fearless Cucurella threw himself into life beyond Barça.
First he moved to Eibar where the club’s coach at the time, Jose Luis Mendilibar, brought him on quickly.
It wasn’t difficult because he wanted to learn, improve and extend his skill set beyond just the Barça-way playing style.
In one game against Real Madrid, Cucurella was Eibar’s man of the match with three assists as they made club history beating them for the first time ever. His energy, direct running and strength was the driving force behind the famous win.
Mendilibar said after that game: ‘He’s the smartest kid in the class. He is not fast, he is not strong, he’s a footballer is what he is. He is clever. He makes the right decisions.’
It’s not that Cucurella doesn’t have pace and power but Mendilibar’s point was: don’t be fooled by the all-action style, he has got a big brain too.
Cucurella followed an unconventional path and departed Barcelona in search of first team opportunities elsewhere, first heading to Eibar and then ending up playing for Getafe
Gerard Lopez who coached Cucurella at Barça B makes the same point. He told El Pais: ‘On a physical level if he has to run through a brick wall then he will; very much in the style of Puyol. But he has something that many don’t see: he is more refined than people think. He could play in midfield in a 4-3-3 too if he had to.
‘He has that energy but also the ability to stop and think. He could play the ball better than Puyol.’
In that one impressive season at Eibar, often playing further forward as a left-sided midfielder, he scored a goal in every competition including one in the league against Barcelona.
Barça bought him back for a pre-agreed €4m (£3.3m) in 2019 but only so they could sell him again to Getafe for €10m (£8.4m) and it was there where he learned another style of football.
Under Jose Bordalas, Getafe were a physical side playing a percentages game of early dangerous long balls into the opposition half. It could not have been further from the style of football he had played as a boy at Barcelona but he embraced it and won his move to England.
Thomas Tuchel has made Cucurella his latest summer signing as Chelsea bolster their defence
When Brighton signed Cucurella from Getafe for €18m (£15m) Barcelona received 10 per cent of the fee, but that’s small consolation for letting a player who would now be an important first-team asset out of their grasp.
The club have been searching for a left back this summer with a bid for Marco Alonso contemplated.
Cucurella would be an important part of Xavi’s jigsaw had they kept him.He would be competition for Alba and as his coaches testify he could play in other positions.
They missed out and now he’ll be playing Champions League football with Chelsea instead, after they sealed the deal on Wednesday night.