Written by El-Khoury
Carles Puyol. A man more than a leader and a legend of Barcelona. An iconic figure in defense, a symbolic player, always full of passion, but has always followed fair play. On the contrary, He is one of the toughest and most vigorous defenders we have ever seen on the pitch. He may not have had the greatest talent, but he was cool. An old-fashioned, strong spirited defender who has always been ready to sacrifice himself for Barça, as emphasized by the 37 total years in his career. A silent hero, who always stood and honoured the team’s emblem.
The water of Lleida and Barça
Carles Puyol Saforcada was born on April 13, 1978, in a small village in the Pyrenees, Pompeii de Cégour in the Catalan Lleida, which is probably closer geographically to Andorra than to Barcelona. In this village everything had to do with the water industry. In fact, more than 80% of the population works in water bottling companies that flow rapidly through the Pyrenees, the famous Lleida water.
So that was the biggest ambition of young Puyol as he was growing up. One day he wanted to become head of department or head of the finance department at the water bottling company. He worked out and organised his week by going Six days a week to the factory and Sunday morning at the church of Santa Maria de Montsor and then playing with Barcelona. After all, the local quote of the village says: “When a Poblatano is injured, the running blood is always blaugrana”.
Double rejection, followed by his dream!
Puyol has always been loyal to Barcelona, the team of his heart, for 25 whole years, despite the unlimited alternatives options and variety of offers he had received in his career. Of course, it was not a fresh start. To reach the highest level, and keep on going he had to shed blood and accept two Rejections from Barça. For those who do not know, Puyol joined the team’s academies in 1995, after two dismissals.
“The first time I tried to go to Barça, I was 12 and tried as a goalkeeper. I was cut. The second, after a painful shoulder injury, I was put in the centre. I stopped again by the Coach. The third time I was 16, I realized that this was my last chance. They made me play as a defensive midfielder and it was like I matched with this position immediately. I have never felt the happiness I felt that day, the moment they called home and said they accepted me to be part of the team. For us, my family and myself Barça is like a religion, it was like God called me”.
The Maldini role-model
Puyol made his debut at the age of 17 in the third team and played exactly in the position that he was tested. As a defensive midfielder. He may never have had the technique and great talent, but he provided 110% of his potential each time, he was decent in the basics and he was what we call a sponge. He just wanted to learn to understand how the team works.
For him, after all, Barça was more than just a club. It was an idea he adored. With slow and steady steps, Puyol gradually showed his competitive strengths in the defensive line, gaining a sense of place, of space, while he had begun to develop a strong reflexive ability to stop opponents in a man to man marking. His idol has always been the huge Italian defender, Paolo Maldini, whom he watched closely and who he mainly admired for his ability to predict every phase and read the game.
“The only team Maldini could play for if he left Milan would have been Barcelona. The same applied for me however since I could only play for Maldini’s Milan if I didn’t play for Barcelona”, said Puyol after a defeat at the San Siro.
Leadership as a calm force
Growing up, Puyol copied many of Maldini’s moves and thus improved his tactics and defensive duties. His friends and teammates called him a “guerrero,” in other words a warrior. And that was it! He became leader in defense.
Puyol could not stand one thing. The defeat. And when Barça still lost 3-0 in the 80th minute, Puyol believed it and chased the win. He was the leader who conveyed to his teammates the passion for victory. Puyol put together the best defensive duo with, in the past, careless, but more talented Pique. Puyol was the man who sacrificed himself to cover up his mistakes and got punished with yellow and red cards. His team spirit, but also the calm spirit that he emitted were the reasons that made him a leader in the starting 11, giving him the captian’s armband.
Van Gaal believed him
All Puyol’s details did not go unnoticed by the gifted Dutch coach Luis Van Gaal. So, in the 1999-2000 season, he did his best to persuade the management to trust the first team, the 21-year-old with his muscular body and long hair.
Instead, the management considered that there was no room on the roster for Puyol and considered him as the last alternative. In fact, Barça had accepted a proposal from Malaga, which according to the managers was a much more “appropriate” team at the time for Carles’ level but what did they know. Van Gaal however knew. The Dutchman had recruited Xavi to go to the administration and explain in detail the reasons why a footballer like Puyol was needed in their Roster. The administration at the time, with considerable thoughts, kept him.
Puyol overcame all resentment and mistrust
Several of his teammates at the time, players who were not Masia’s sprouts, even openly expressed their opposition to the coach’s decision to keep Puyol. We also remind you that Litmanen, Tony, and Van Persie, footballers with great talent, had been removed from the team with a summary of the reasons why by the Dutchman Van Gaal, even though they were more talented then Puyol in football.
The chance given to Puyol was all on the Coach’s shoulders, especially when he started as a key player – at times on the right wing and sometimes in the centre of defense. Raisinger and De Boer always looked at Puyol with doubt and did not trust him even in the most simple phases. Carles, with his strong character and fighting spirit, convinced them positively as he managed to win the demanding fans of the Camp Nou. Puyol was their own child, one of them who gave his best in every game.
Man United’s proposal
The love of the people kept Puyol in the hardest times, at times when in 2003 the club was facing very serious financial problems and the proposal of Manchester United was an attractive offer. Puyol stayed in the team of his heart with less money, with a new management and the ambitious Rijkaard on the bench. Together with Xavi and Iniesta, Ronaldinho, Danny Alves, Eto’o and later Messi, they formed one of the best teams in the world until now. The highlight of his career is during the Barcelona of Pep Guardiola and his assistant Tito Vilanova.
Puyol was the man who motivated his teammates, he was the pillar of Barça’s defensive line, the portrait of “més que un club” and that was the reason why everyone suggested him as leader immediately after the departure of Luis Enrique since he had not yet lifted a single trophy.
“I was always thirsty and thirsty for victories, don’t get me wrong. But life was given to me by the struggle itself, the competition, not necessarily the victory. The thrill and the emotion, the feeling of constant battle. The important thing is to be there and fight, not to fall into battle. And if the trophy comes, its welcome. But what matters is the dream and the path to reach it, not the final score in the cups. If life wants, life will bring the trophies”, he once commented in 2005, nine years before he stopped his career.
Titles and successes
He may have been late in his career to enjoy titles, but football offered him for all his hard work in the end. In 2014, when he hung up his shoes and ended his career, it couldn’t have been any better due to winning 3 Champions Leagues, 6 leagues and 6 cups, 1 Euro with the national team and 1 World Cup in South Africa. He has scored a total of 15 goals in more than 600 appearances in his career.
A gentleman inside and outside the stadiums
In January 2015, Puyol, the Captain of the team, immediately resigned as a sign of solidarity with the dismissal of technical director Antonio Thumbithareta. All the media outlets that tried to find a fault about him they did not find anything to blame him. He was always clean.
As a character he was extremely introverted, anti-journalistic and low-profile. He has only said that Van Gaal was chasing to cut his hair in the past, however he left it like that because he wanted to look like the guitarist of his favourite band, Napalm Death.
Puyol lives with his family, is a fan of reading noir novels and since 2009 when he lost his father, he has been taking care of his farm in the village. His retirement from professional football created an unwanted gap, not so much a competitive one, but more in what he himself created as a man on the pitch, but also for Barça, the club itself. It was an honor for the whole team to have him in the Barca family and hopefully one day we will have a Leader like Puyol to entertain us in the football industry again.