When Carles Puyol recently announced his intention to leave Barcelona at the end of the season, it marked the end of an era for this one-club legend. Not only was he a distinctive figure with his flowing locks and no-nonsense approach to the game, but he was also a very successful defender and sportsman who will be a huge miss in Spanish and international football.
Puyol first joined Barcelona when appearing at La Masia academy when 17 years old and matured from a winger, then full-back into finally becoming the dependable defender on which so much of Barca’s and Spain’s recent success emanated. In his time at the club, Barcelona have won 21 titles including three Champions League victories and six La Liga crowns while Spain have dominated in the international stage in recent years.
Two major knee operations have been cited as the reason for his decision to leave the club, but an announcement on his retirement from the game may be forthcoming in June. Until then, Poyol has declared his intentions to help the club for the remainder of the campaign, although first team duties have become increasingly restricted this season.
While his defensive importance cannot be equalled during 19 years devoted to the club, his insistence on maintaining standards and respect cannot be overlooked, although he rarely conformed to the expected dress code when appearing at public functions.
On the field, it was a different matter as he did not believe in over-elaborate goal celebrations either by himself or his team-mates out of respect for the opposition, and the occasion when he allowed cancer victim Eric Abidal to collect the Champions League trophy in 2011 typified his generosity as a person.
Rarely, if ever, was Puyol involved on heated exchanges on the pitch or responsible for crude challenges on his opponents as he played the game hard but fairly. He also encouraged his fellow team-mates at every opportunity and any player allowing concentration levels to slip would always be a victim of a Puyol tongue lashing. His will to win in each match never wavered in his time at Barcelona.
Fellow defender Gerard Pique has recently described Puyol as a ‘guardian angel’ and who will be difficult to replace by just his presence at the club, and that will be the real challenge for Barcelona in the months ahead.
Although, Puyol has announced he will be taking a rest in the summer especially as his girlfriend has recently given birth to their first child, a job among the coaching staff at the club could await as Barcelona may seek to retain the services of a player who has been the source of much positive influence during his 19 years tenure at the club.