Carles Puyol entered FC Barcelona’s La Masia academy in 1995 at the age of 17. Almost two decades later, on 30 June this year, the centre-back will hang up his boots at the club, despite his contract running for a further two years. Injuries and fatigue accelerated his departure, meaning he will now no longer be able to follow in the footsteps of one of his idols, Paolo Maldini, in continuing to play at the club of his dreams until he is 40.
FIFA.com pays tribute to the battle-hardened defender, highlighting five of his best moments with Los Azulgrana.
2 October 1999
Four years after arriving at the Catalan club, Puyol was handed his first-team debut by Dutch coach Louis van Gaal in a 2-0 league victory away to Valladolid at the Estadio Jose Zorrilla. Puyol had almost joined Malaga that summer after failing to impress the coaching staff, but he eventually decided to stay put and fluctuated between the reserves and the first team. The defender, whose hair was even more voluminous back then, replaced Simao Sabrosa in the 55th minute, taking up a position on the right wing. It was the first step on the way to earning Van Gaal’s trust and the first chapter in what would be a remarkable story.
First title and first year as captain
The Catalan’s first five years in the senior squad were far from easy as instability within the club harmed the team’s on-field performances. While a succession of coaches including Van Gaal, Lorenzo Serra Ferrez and Radomir Antic came and went, silverware remained elusive. That would all change in the 2004/05 season when Frank Rijkaard was appointed as the new man on the touchline and he promptly named Puyol as his captain. Following a draw with Levante on 14 May 2005, Barça were crowned league champions and Puyol lifted what would be the first of many trophies.
Barcelona’s history books are filled with the glorification of past teams, such as the mythical side from the 1951/52 campaign that won a quintuple of the league, the cup, the Copa Latina, the Copa Eva Duarte and the Copa Martini Rossi. Yet when Pep Guardiola took over as coach, the Azulgrana faithful witnessed first-hand the best side the club has ever produced, and one that even surpassed the achievements of their illustrious predecessors. As captain, Puyol lifted six titles that year: the league championship, the Copa del Rey, the UEFA Champions League, the UEFA Super Cup, the Spanish Super Cup and the FIFA Club World Cup. Put simply, Barcelona won every competition they entered.
2011 Champions League final
Even Manchester United’s manager Sir Alex Ferguson admitted that his side had been taught a footballing lesson after their 3-1 defeat to Barcelona at Wembley. On the way up to collect the trophy, Puyol demonstrated his depth of character by removing the captain’s armband and putting it on Eric Abidal’s arm. The act allowed the Frenchman, who had recovered from a liver transplant to play in London, to be the first to lift the club’s fourth European title. “It was a massive gesture,” Abidal said afterwards. “I felt like time stood still and that I was alone in a packed-out stadium. Now I’m very thankful he did it.”
Puyol has won more titles than almost any other player in the club’s history. Only team-mate Xavi, who boasts one league winners’ medal more, has a greater collection than the 35-year-old’s haul of 21. On top of that, Puyol has made more appearances than any other Barça defender, surpassing the record of another club great, Migueli, who played 549 times. “It’s an honour because Migueli is a role model for Culés everywhere,” Puyol said after setting the new best-mark on 3 April 2012. From 30 June onwards, Puyol, the great captain, will himself be the one the club’s fans and someone who future players will look up to.