Preparing the next Puyol

Having lost their grip on the La Liga title, Barcelona are looking to snatch it back out of the hands of their fierce rivals with a summer of strengthening – but whilst last year brought Cesc Fabregas and Alexis Sanchez, they appear to have different things on their mind this summer.

The well publicised move for Valencia’s flying full-back Jordi Alba has seen slow but steady progress and appears to be reaching its completion, allowing Barcelona to move on to their main position of concern – centre-back.

It’s hard to imagine it having followed La Liga for so long, but Barcelona will be without talismanic captain Carles Puyol in the very near future.

At 34 years of age, Puyol is winding down. He’s coming to the end of a relationship with the club that has lasted an incredible 17 years, spanning his rise from Barcelona C, to B and eventually the first team. Now is the time for Barcelona to seek the heir apparent to Puyol.

The injuries are starting to pile up for Puyol – his troublesome knee injury ruled him out of Euro 2012 and his absence at Barcelona forced Pep Guardiola into some peculiar systems – his 3-4-3 with Javier Mascherano, Sergio Busquets and Eric Abidal at centre-back against Villarreal springs to mind. With Guardiola now gone, new boss Tito Vilanova has to move away from these stop-gap centre-halves and bring in an accomplished defender.

The club have already been linked with two fairly big names in world football – Mats Hummels of Borussia Dortmund and Milan’s Thiago Silva. Whilst either would be a superb addition to the team, the problem that hangs over Barcelona is apparent once again – money.

Milan turned down a staggering £37.5m from Paris Saint-Germain for Silva, money which Barcelona are unlikely to be able to match at the moment. Silva’s new contract demands since the Paris debacle have brought further doubt to his long term future at San Siro, prompting further speculation of a move away.

To add even more confusion to this episode, it has been reported that Milan still owe Barcelona money for Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which Barca may use in a bid to snatch Silva away. A technically gifted ball playing defender, you can instantly see why Barcelona have been infatuated with Silva for over a year now, but financial restraints at the Camp Nou will dictate their move for the Brazilian.

In the case of Hummels meanwhile, Dortmund have just secured their second successive Bundesliga crown and don’t want to lose any more of their prized possessions having already seen Shinji Kagawa move on to the Premier League with Manchester United. Whilst still a Dortmund player, Hummels’ defensive partner Neven Subotic seems a far more likely acquisition, with Catalan media suggesting Barcelona are preparing a £15m bid for the Serbian.

The need for defensive reinforcements has been at the forefront of Barcelona’s mind for some time now. Whilst it may seem negligible, Barca conceded eight more goals this season than last season as they lost the title, and using makeshift centre-halves like Mascherano and Busquets made them vulnerable on occasions.

Obviously in an ideal world, Puyol would be able to play on for many years. His passion for the club is infectious and he is the epitome of a club captain. His partnership in recent years with Gerard Pique has been watertight, bringing trophy after trophy to the club in the process.

There were murmurings of Puyol’s impending retirement that proved to be unfounded, but the clock is evidently ticking on Puyol’s Barcelona career. This could be his final year on the pitch and regaining the La Liga title would be the fitting end for a phenomenal career.