With his floppy hair and short stature, Carles Puyol looks more like a surfer than a footballer. But anyone who has been unfortunate enough to play against him will testify that he is one of the best footballers around. The Spanish internationalist has been the heart beat of Barcelona for over a decade now but as the phrase goes, all good things must come to an end. It’s the day Barca fans didn’t want to see but yesterday in front of a packed press room, Puyol announced his intentions to leave the Nou Camp at the end of the season. At 35, the defender had one year remaining on his contract but has reached an agreement with the club to terminate his agreement early. It’s not known at this stage what or where Puyol will end up next but one rumour suggests that Puyol wants to play one final season in a different league, with the US his likely destination.
Having played over 593 times for Barcelona since his debut in 1999, Puyol is a club legend. A formidable defender, tough in the tackle, Puyol has helped Barcelona to undoubtedly its best trophy haul in the clubs history. With 6 La Liga titles, 3 Champions League titles, 2 UEFA Super Cups and 2 FIFA Club World Cups as well as 2 Copa Del Rey trophies, Puyol will leave the club a winner. His partnership over the past six years with Gerard Pique has proven to be highly lucrative and was seen as the best defensive paring in the world during this time. The duo teamed up for Spain as well on several occasions, helping them to a European Championship victory in 2008 and then cementing Spain position as the best team in the world with their first ever World Cup triumph in 2010. His performances in that World Cup in South Africa earned him a place in the FIFA World Cup All Stars team, which for Puyol was yet another accolade to add to his growing collection. Puyol to date has won 100 caps for his country and is likely to travel to Brazil as a crucial part of Vicente del Bosque’s Spanish squad.
Puyol’s influence for club and country cannot be understated. His fellow professionals look to him for leadership and guidance. He is the first player in the dressing room and the last to leave. Teammate Xavi has spoken in the past about his admiration for Puyol and what he brings to the team:
“Puyol is the key, not just because he is one of the best defenders in the world but because of his character. He never lets up”
Replacing Puyol will not be an easy feat for whoever is in charge at Barcelona next season. Current boss Gerardo Martino is under fire and rumours surrounding the club suggest he will leave in the summer and be replaced by former Chelsea and Tottenham manager, Andre Villas Boas. Either way, replacing Puyol will be the primary goal during this summer’s transfer window. Eliaquim Mangala and David Luiz are two players being linked heavily with the club but both will face the challenge of filling Puyol’s shoes. Pique is skeptical that anyone can do this, saying that Puyol is simply one of a kind. Few would argue with that.