Carles Puyol, one of the most iconic defenders in Barcelona’s history, has announced he will leave the club at the end of the season, finally curtailing a 19-year association with the Catalans that has proved as glorious as it was lengthy.
The floppy-haired centre back is undecided on his long-term future but will not be extending his contract at the Nou Camp, a decision that raises serious questions for a side that is undoubtedly struggling through a transitional phase. Though Puyol’s contract was not due to expire until 2016, the two parties have reached an agreement to release him prematurely as the injuries that have plagued the latter part of his career fail to go away.
In many ways, Puyol’s departure is only a microcosm of a much wider and for manager Tata Martino, more daunting prospect of bringing down the curtain on what has been a period of unprecedented success. If numerous reports are to be believed, Martino may be mercifully relieved of the duty of replacing Puyol, as rumours continue to link former Spurs and Chelsea boss Andre Villas-Boas with the Barca hot seat.
Few would be surprised, however, if Puyol – who incredibly, began his career as a goalkeeper before moving upfront and then reverting to defence - is to prove irreplaceable, not only due to his memorable appearance.
Throughout Martino’s reign, and earlier under Pep Guardiola - at the very peak of Barcelona’s success – he embraced both managers’ philosophies that drove the side to press high up the field. The likes of Lionel Messi and Andrès Iniesta would arguably not have enjoyed such a rampant series of accolades in both La Liga and the Champions League without a rock at the heart of defence.
Injuries have meant Puyol’s role in the last few seasons has been somewhat limited, and so in a sense, Barca have already been forced to deal with his inevitable absence from their long-term plans. As he waves goodbye to the Nou Camp, though, it may hit home that the club has serious work to do in order to regain its European dominance.
Prior to their 2-0 victory over Manchester City at the Etihad, Jose Mourinho had dismissed them as the “worst Barcelona team for many years”, sounding more than a little embittered at his years of playing second fiddle with Real Madrid.
Puyol is yet to officially retire, though this will presumably follow at the end of the season, if not before.
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