In the modern age of football, players who are liked by everyone are few and far between. In La Liga, Carles Puyol is a rare thing and is liked by almost all fans across the country. This week he announced that he had reached an agreement with Barcelona to rescind the final two years of his contract. The reaction to his statement was one of appreciation but also of sadness.
“I am here to announce I am leaving Barcelona at the end of the season. The club and I have agreed to rescind the two remaining years on my contract,” announced the club’s captain fifteen years after making his debut, with 21 medals in his trophy cabinet.
The past two years have seen him become a bit part player due to injuries. Whether he would continue to play elsewhere he wouldn’t say. He said he was only concentrating on the season ahead and that until the June 30 he would be making no further decisions. He also brought down the curtain on his international career, a career that saw Spain turn from football’s bridesmaids to its most beautiful bride and right at the heart of it was Puyol.
Puyol made his Barca debut in 1999 under Louis van Gaal as a 17-year-old right back. He would become a central defender but his versatility gave Los Cules options and he was occasionally played across the defence to cover injuries. At the start of his career his defensive duties were sometimes forgotten as he went forward. Over time he worked on his weaknesses and became a rock in Barca’s defence.
It is fair to say that it will be Barca that will feel his loss more than anyone. When his partner in defence Gerard Pique’s concentration would wander, it was Puyol who would bring him back on track. Barca’s attack gets all the plaudits, whilst its defence has always been somewhat of an Achilles heel.
Puyol was often one of the only positives they had. His commitment and determination was inspiring and fans idolized his every move. Sometimes his commitment to the cause would see him pick up serious injuries as he threw himself into challenges without worrying about his own welfare.
Puyol also demanded respect. He made sure that his teammates always conducted themselves in a gentlemanly way and if they didn’t, they would receive a clip around the ear. When some of his teammates celebrated a goal against Rayo Vallecano a few seasons ago in front of the Rayo fans by dancing, Puyol stormed up the pitch furiously and smacked them across the back of the head.
It was actions like this that endeared him to fans. When Real Betis announced that they couldn’t afford to pay for all of Miki Roque’s cancer treatment, the defender stepped in and paid the balance. Why? Because he felt it was the right thing to do.
The Miki Roque situation was just one example of his selflessness. When Barca won the Champions League in 2011, he gave Eric Abidal the armband to lift the trophy. He did something similar last season when he gave Tito Vilanova and Abidal the honour of lifting the League.
Off the pitch he was one who shied away from nightclubs and the limelight. He has been singled out as the perfect example to follow by many Coaches as they warn young players about the trappings of the modern game.
Puyol is a leader and a gentleman. He led by example and whilst he still has three months left to play at Barca, fans are already mourning his departure. The hole he will leave at Barca extends beyond the pitch.
What happens after June is still being debated. Most believe that one day he will take over the bench at the Camp. Right now the curtain is coming down on a player who was one in a million. Not only will Barca feel his loss – so too will La Liga.