The bet seemed risky. And, ultimately, it was. When the then Barcelona technical secretary, Ramon Planes, signed Ronald Araujo to the Barça subsidiary, they were surprised. “It’s a drama with the ball and tactically he doesn’t understand the concepts”, complained from the Barça B technical staff. “Trust me, this kid will be very good”, Planes deceived them. In the Barcelona Sports City, at that time, they began to highlight the competitive capacity of the Uruguayan center-back. Until one day the love was definitive. In a duel against Mallorca, after scoring the Barça goal, Araujo could not avoid the victory of the Balearic team. To top it off, he was injured. And, although he forced to continue, García Pimienta, coach of Barça B, replaced him. The Uruguayan cried on the bench. “This kid has something different,” he commented from the coaching staff.
The central defender trained with the subsidiary group in the morning and returned to Sant Joan Despí in the afternoon to get into what Barça call the “bullring”, the machine for practicing passes and controls. “At first it was crazy. It cost me a lot. My teammates had been playing the same game since they were eight years old and I had just come from a completely different kind of football”, explains Araujo. From Uruguayan pragmatism to Barça rhetoric, the defense’s growth, in any case, was not only manifested on the pitch. In his second year in the subsidiary he got into the group of captains.
“There are two gestures that define it,” says a club employee. “In 2020, when he was already in the dynamics of the first team, he asked to play the play-off with the subsidiary,” he explains. “In addition”, add the same sources; “When he left B, he asked his colleagues for permission to stop WhatsApp. And he said goodbye to everyone ”. The same formula is used by the first team. He never hides in the post-match flash interview and established himself as the leader of the new crop made up of Ansu Fati, Éric García, Ferran Torres, Pedri and Gavi. “Organize meals. He makes a group ”, they explain in the Sports City.
It happened, however, that Johan Cruyff’s jump to the Camp Nou was not conclusive. Araujo’s football was still in the cooking phase. And Xavi didn’t take long to realize it. “Mister, excuse me, can I ask you a question?” He told him. The technician agreed. “What is the third man?” He questioned. Far from being upset, the coaching staff loved that honesty. And, as García Pimienta had already done in the subsidiary, he put on his work overalls to polish the Uruguayan. “He has everything inside. You just have to take it off ”, they expose in Barcelona. So, we began to prepare special videos for him. “It adapted to me, I’m comfortable with the ball,” says Araujo.
Although in his statistics, the percentages of success in the passes are similar (91% in the 2020-2021 campaign for the 89% he has in this one), the Uruguayan today risks much more: before he delivered 44 passes per duel; now, 57. “Trust me, Xavi gives that one,” he insists. He is also encouraged to break lines with the ball. He adds 11 drivings in progression per game, when in the 2020-2021 academic year he registered 6.7. “I have tried to make him dare to do things with the ball. What was happening to him was normal. When you don’t master a situation, it gives you uncertainty. But I want him to dare. And he is doing it. He notes what he has improved. Last year he had already improved, but this season he is doing much more”, explained Xavi Hernández.
“But remember”, Araujo; “The most important thing for a defense is to defend.” Tough one-on-one (he was only dribbled once this season), impeccable in duels (he has won 69) and active in recoveries (39), Barça are encouraged to compare him to a legend. “Remember Puyol, he plays injured. He demands himself to the maximum ”, they expose the coaching staff.
In short, Araujo is a fundamentalist in the defensive game. An axiom that they maintain in the sports area. “Without him, we were out of the Champions League.” Araujo was injured when Barça was in the group stage, when Inter kicked him out of the fight for La Orejona. “With Ronald everyone feels more supported. Defenders, midfielders and forwards. And, when that happens, everyone plays more freely ”, they explain in the football department.
The bet on Araujo seemed risky, yes. But no one remembers anymore. They all surrendered to the Uruguayan. He first convinced García Pimienta, then Valverde, Setién and Koeman. Xavi finishes polishing it. Meanwhile, the Barça fans are devoted to Araujo who this Thursday (9:00 p.m., Movistar), in the second leg of the Europa League (2-2, in the first leg), will try to dry Rashford, the fashionable player in the Premier league. “Rashford is a very versatile player. He can do a lot of things on the field. He is hard to stop. But the effort is collective”, recalled Koundé. And for everyone’s work, few are better than Araujo.
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