Carles Puyol: Oh Captain, My Captain
Another rainy day for Barcelona has arrived.
Carles Puyol, who has been the team's captain for the past 10 years, has announced he will retire from the club at the end of this season. The time to take a look at the player's career has arrived. Not completely unexpected, but maybe sooner than what everybody thought.
Carles Puyol Saforcada was born in La Pobla de Segur (Lleida, Catalonia) almost 36 years ago. He actually started his football career as a goalkeeper of his little hometown club, but he quickly found out that he had been born to be a defender, not a goalie. So, when he was 18-years-old he joined Barcelona C, one of the youth divisions of the Spanish club.
After spending four years learning at Barça's academy, Puyol was finally promoted to the first team by then coach Louis Van Gaal. He made his debut against Real Valladolid in Oct. 2, 2000. In that first season, Puyol played as a right back, but the coach started adapting him to a central defender and it was in that position that the young player thrived and played at his best.
In the end of the 2003-2004 season, after four years giving his all to the team who had captured his heart a long time ago, the then 26-year-old defender was rewarded with the captain's armband, a token that he has kept until this very day. Out of all who have captained Barcelona he's the one who truly stands out, for he's one of the few ones who was there through everything: great, good, bad and worse. He was there when Barça couldn't threaten in Madrid's "Galácticos" era. He was there when Guardiola took them to the highest of glories, and he's there now where the club has arguably reached a new low. But he's leaving and now Barcelona will be without a backbone that Puyol provided, both on the field and inside the locker room.
A lot could be said about the man that Puyol is. He's not only a good player, he's a good man. He's a good teammate and a leader to his colleagues and his leadership through the past 10 years is thoroughly recognized by everyone who's had the honor of playing alongside "El Capità".
Gerard Piqué, considered one of the best defenders in the world, has said many times that he wouldn't be who he is as a player if he didn't have Puyol teaching him for years. Marc Bartra, who will probably be one of Puyol's substitutes in the club's defensive line, also stated that he's learned a lot from the veteran and is looking forward to the three months that he has left to learn. And Pep Guardiola, with whom Puyol reached his best, said it many times during their golden years together that the team wouldn't be where they were if they didn't have Puyol guiding them match after match after match, in his tireless manner. He yells, he complains, he orders, but he gets everyone to do their jobs well.
I remember Puyol saying, some time in the past year, that he would leave Barça whenever he felt he wasn't being able to play at the level the team needed him. He still has two more years left on his contract and regardless of that fact I can only assume that he is not feeling up to the task anymore. His performances have been suffering a downgrade in these past two seasons while suffering from more injuries than usual, and although I believe that Guardiola leaving had some impact on the player's mental form, it is also quite obvious that the age has begun to weigh on Puyol's shoulders and the time has come to leave.
We know that, he knows that - and he was honest enough with himself and all of us to leave now while he still can do it gracefully.
There are still almost four months left to watch him, so I won't be talking about statistics and titles right now - I'll wait until the season's done and the captain's given a proper farewell, and then I'll talk about the different numbers in his career.
As of right now, I'll just sit here, missing him already, hoping these next months go by slowly and that they may be enough for him to show us, once again, why he's so precious for Barça. And I'll also be here hoping that one day he returns, maybe as a coach, maybe in some kind of administrative position - but that he never fully leaves Barça, because he'll be leaving a part of his soul there.
I guess there's nothing left for me now, other than to thank him for how great he always has been. Ever since I've been a football fan, I've been a Barcelona fan, and I've always, always been a Puyol fan, because how could I not love the man who captained my favorite team. The man who personifies Barça's "valors" so well? I honestly believe that Carles Puyol's leadership will be unparalleled and whoever comes after him will always look up and try to achieve the same.
Carles Puyol will always be an example of what it is to be a Barcelona player, of what it is to love your club above everything else - of what it is to truly give yourself to your team, over and over, year after year. And for that, he'll always be our eternal "Capità".
Moltes graciès per tot. Thank you so much for everything.
"Oh Captain! my captain! our fearful trip is done;
The ship has weathered every rack, the prize we sought is won." (W. Whitman)