Barcelona captain Carles Puyol has announced that he will retire at the end of this season despite having a contract with the club till the end of 2016. The decorated central defender has chosen to rescind the two-years that are left in his contract. Puyol has sighted his persistent battle with knee injuries as the cause for the decision. Here’s a look back on a quite remarkable career.
Perhaps nothing exemplifies Puyol better than the press conference that signaled the end of his career with the Spanish champions. No fuss, straight to the point without any of the heightened drama normally associated with such decisions.
“I have told the club the situation and we are both in agreement that it is the right decision. I will rescind the two years left on my contract.” The Blaugrana captain added, “The injuries I have been suffering from have been worse than I expected and have not allowed me to play at my level.”
He also added, “It is not finished today, there are three months of the championship left where those that know me are aware that I will not take it easy and I will fight to the end to try and help the team achieve their objectives this season.”
For anyone from my generation, even imagining Barcelona side without the name Carles Puyol feels unimaginable, almost empty. The 35-year-old’s career has spanned 15 years where he’s made 593 appearances for his beloved Barcelona – a rare one-club man in these fickle times – and almost all of them have been marked by a battling quality that would make him a firm Camp Nou favourite. He was given his first start by Dutch coach Louis van Gaal in 2-0 away win over Real Valladolid on the 2nd of October. Since then, he has never looked back and been the center of 6 La Liga and 3 Champions League titles.
However, only a blinkered observer of the game would understate the importance of Puyol’s part in the great Barcelona teams in the past and present. His leadership both on and off the pitch set an example, making him a revered figure whom the players – even the opposing ones – held in the highest esteem. A no-nonsense defender, Puyol was seldom sidetracked from giving his absolute all. While the rest of the world focused on Barca’s stylish play in the opposing half, it was Puyol’s presence that gave his teammates a sense of assurance that El Capitan was there.
We all remember this oft-repeated quote from defensive partner Gerard Pique which summarizes his captain to the T. After Puyol had returned after an injury, Pique turned to him in the middle of a match to tell him how much he’d been missed to which the Barca captain’s reply had been, “shut the hell up and concentrate”.
Another brilliant instance was prior to the 2011 Champions League final where Puyol – who was still not fully fit – was benched while Eric Abidal, who had miraculously recovered from a tumor in his liver, started. Upon hearing this, the Frenchman walked up to Puyol and asked him, “Why aren’t you starting? Did you know he was going to leave you out?” Puyol’s typical response, “I’m not important right now, you are what matters; don’t worry about me.” Abidal was definitely not expecting such a reply and explained in a media conference later. “Do you have any idea what a f***ing badass we have as captain? Do you? Champions League final, they tell him he’ll be warming the bench, and he’s the one comforting me! This is Barcelona.”
While most could be left gawking at his statistics with Barcelona, it should be noted that Puyol served his country with equal distinction. He was at the heart of the Spanish defense in Euro 2008 – the tournament which finally put an end to Spanish heartache in major competitions. Two years later, one of the standout images from the World Cup in South Africa was Puyol towering over the entire German defense before sending a bullet header past Manuel Neuer. The Germans, much fancied prior to the game, were completely outplayed but it needed something almost ‘Un-Spanish’ to end their resistance; Puyol provided it and a few days later kept the Dutch strike force at bay as Spain triumphed at the World stage.
As Ronaldinho said, ‘Puyol was born to lead Barcelona’. The news has obviously left many-a-Barca fan shocked and they will no doubt go the extra mile to make their captain’s last few games feel special. However, for Puyol these few months will be just another chance to defend the Azulgrana colors and make sure the opponents don’t breach the Barca goal. After all, who better to signify the famous words etched all over the Catalan Club, ‘Més que un club’.
Thank you Carles, it’s been a pleasure!