Spain may have qualified for Euro 2008 by beating Sweden, but the Santiago Bernabeu crowd were calling out for someone who was miles away. In 2006 Luis Aragones made the tough decision and decided that the last of the old guard had played his final game - Raul was dropped from the national set-up. A new era was beginning and one of the foundation stones would be Carles Puyol.
As the fans in the Bernabeu chanted Raul’s name, Aragones told his charges to buck the trend and go and win the tournament. The national team did not enjoy the same popularity as it does now. Players were often accused of caring more for their clubs than their country and the squad was full of cliques. The Spanish public were more interested in La Liga than La Roja and TV stations were not busting a gut to get the rights to show the national side live. Attendances at home games were poor. In fact the Spanish FA charged fans as little as €5 for fans to attend in the Bernabeu but still there were plenty of empty seats around the place. All that changed after 2008 and Puyol would see his name go down in history.
Puyol is widely admired by all. He is a proud Catalan, which for some may be a fly in the ointment, but his displays for the national team has no-one doubting whether his heart is in it. His passion, his determination and his desire are just some of the reasons why he is so beloved in Spain. In an era of modern day prima donnas and baby Bentleys, Puyi is a breath of fresh air. His long hair and his no nonsense approach is admired by teammates and commentators alike. These are also similar characterises to his national team captain, Iker Casillas and it is for this reason that both have linked up well when they pull on the famous red shirt.
In Euro 2008 the central defender was named in UEFA’S team of the tournament. It was the start of the Spanish dominance at international level. In 2009 he went to the Confederations Cup and took the armband once when Iker was rested. Spain failed to win that tournament and rumours started to spread that players like Puyol were unhappy with what they saw as Vicente Del Bosque’s failure to implement curfews etc. Xavi was even heard saying that under Aragones things were a lot stricter, adding that he preferred it that way ,but in 2010, Del Bosque showed that he did know what he was doing as Spain won the World Cup for the first time in its history and it would be down to no small part to Tarzan.
Cometh the hour, Cometh the man and against Germany the man towered over the German defence and headed in the only goal of the semi-final to send Spain through to the final where they faced the Netherlands. It would be his third and to date final goal for his country. Yet, for as much as the goal is discussed, it is what happened afterwards that is usually reminisced about. The Queen of Spain walked into the dressing room to congratulate the players. As his teammates dashed around to get dressed, Puyi walked out with a towel and shook the Queen’s hand and went back to the showers. So typical of him.
He missed out on Euro 2012 due to injury. For many it was the end but he refused to retire. This week he made his comeback and reached 100 caps. He has said he wants to go to Brazil and defend the 2010 title but the big question is, what happens when he goes. Sergio Ramos and Gerard Pique proved they could do it when they partnered up in 2012 but the worrying thing is that apart from those two, Spain have no-one who can step in right now. They need Puyol to stay on for as long as possible and maybe the day that he is left out of the Spanish squad, they will chant his name just as they did Raul’s.