Puyol’s era coming to a close?

Second to Xavi Hernandez in official appearances for Barcelona, Carles Puyol and his shaggy locks have become emblematic of the current Barca side that has, in recent years, made a good claim to be considered one of the best sides of all time. As many observers agree, it is not just the titles and records they have claimed, but the style in which they have done it. And this remains their intention, as Tata Martino recently pointed out: “We do not want just to win, but we will continue work to win every match with beautiful football.”

Barcelona’s tiki-taka style has only been possible because of the technical excellence of players like Andres Iniesta, Sergio Busquets, Xavi and Lionel Messi. However, one cannot underestimate Puyol’s contribution either, despite possessing characteristics that stand in stark contrast to his teammates. Rather than being elegant, Puyol’s rough and tough physical appearance mirrors the way he plays. But, he has offered a lot more too. He possesses great anticipation – a key attribute to be a top-class defender – and his leadership skills have been crucial to Barca’s success.

Yet, as it does with everyone, it seems time is catching up on Puyol. On October 19, after 220 days out injured, the Barca captain returned to action in the 0-0 draw away to Osasuna. His return, it was hoped, would solve the team’s problems at centre-half. However, things have hardly gone to plan since.

Puyol has only made three more appearances since turning out in Pamplona as injury concerns coupled with poor form continue to shackle him. At 35-years-old, it does not come as any great surprise that this is the case. Very few footballers can continue to play at the highest level once they get to such an age or beyond. Given Puyol’s troubles with injuries, there are real questions as to whether he is one of them or not.  

Ahead of Barca’s recent trip to Athletic Bilbao, the captain had to pull out after suffering a knock in training. Instead, he was sent to hospital to get liquid drained out of his troublesome knee. Spanish sports daily AS claim that Barcelona will evaluate how the games leading up to the Christmas break go – which include the visits of Celtic and Villarreal to the Camp Nou and a trip to Getafe – before taking a decision whether to sign a new defender. As Martino said last week: “There is still time before the need to make a decision.”

Given Puyol’s troubling form and injury concerns, it seems likely that Barcelona will dip into the market in January. They probably cannot afford not to if they are indeed planning to reclaim their La Liga crown whilst improving on their Champions League campaign of last term. But, what this will mean for Puyol and his future at the club only time will tell.

On Monday morning AS mused on how in the coming summer some painful decisions will be made at the club in what they called will be a ‘revolution’. Victor Valdes’ desire to leave is already well-known while even Punto Pelota, a respected Madrid-based football radio show, has even speculated that some other big names could leave Barca, too – Puyol could just be one of them.