Football in mourning for Puerta

The death of the 22-year-old Sevilla player Antonio Puerta has shocked the football world. The young defender collapsed during Saturday's league match against Getafe at the Sanchez Pizjuan, and although he was able to walk from the pitch, he collapsed again in the changing rooms and suffered a series of heart attacks en route to the city's Virgen del Rocio hospital.

After spending more than 48 hours in a critical condition, Puerta died at 14.30 on Tuesday afternoon. A hospital statement confirmed that the player's death was caused by "postanoxic encephalopathy and a multiple organ failure caused by the prolonged cardiac arrest that provoked his admission to hospital on 25 August. The cardiac arrest was secondary to a ventricular arrhythmia resulting from arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia."

A rising star of Spanish football
The versatile left-sided player was born on 26 November 1984 in the Seville suburb of Nervion, where the Estadio Sanchez Pizjuan stands. His grandfather was a founder member of one of the team's oldest supporters clubs and his passion for the red and white of Sevilla was evident from an early age.

The young Puerta served his footballing apprenticeship in the youth ranks at his beloved club, honing his skills and sharing dreams with the likes of Jesus Navas, Sergio Ramos, Jose Antonio Reyes and Kepa Blanco; highly talented players with whom he forged firm friendships.

It was Joaquin Caparros who handed him his first-team debut in March 2004, although further opportunities were few and far between until the arrival of Juande Ramos on the Sevilla bench at the start of the 2005/06 season. Initially Ramos contemplated the idea of loaning out Puerta to give him vital experience elsewhere. The youngster decided to stay put in the reserves, however, convinced his chance to shine on the big stage would come sooner or later.

That opportunity finally arrived midway through the campaign when an injury to Adriano opened the doors to the first-team dressing room. Now 21, Puerta took full advantage, showing Ramos just what his cultured left foot was capable of and convincing his coach that he belonged at the highest level.

The kid from Seville becomes a Sevillista idol
It was in the UEFA Cup semi-final against Schalke 04 in the club's centenary season last year that Puerta wrote his name in Sevilla's history books, coming off the bench to fire home a magnificent left-footed volley and take the Andalusians into their first final in 44 years. As the matchwinner turned to celebrate, he pointed skywards to dedicate the goal to his late grandfather, the man who awakened his love for the colours. And with the city's popular fair week in full swing, the celebrations in the red half of Seville went on long into the night.

After pocketing a UEFA Cup winner's medal the following month, the rising star achieved his dream of becoming a permanent fixture in the side that would go on to pick up yet more trophies the following season. In addition to a second UEFA Cup triumph, Ramos's side also stormed to success in the UEFA Super Cup and the Spanish Cup, and went mightily close to adding the Spanish league title to their ever-increasing list of honours.

His fine form with his club and Spain's youth teams did not go unnoticed by national coach Luis Aragones, who handed him his international debut in the UEFA EURO 2008 qualifier against Sweden last October after his former team-mate Reyes was ruled out with injury.

Although a string of offers came in from some big clubs across Europe, the local hero opted to stay at home and await the birth of his first child, renewing his contract until 2012.

The new season was one that promised much for Antonio Puerta. A brace of wins over Real Madrid in the Spanish Super Cup represented the best possible start in a campaign for which the 22-year-old had high hopes of continuing to make history with the club in its maiden appearance in the UEFA Champions League.

The new league season had barely got under way, however, when those hopes were cruelly cut short, with an entire city and the football world now united in grief over the loss of one of its bright young stars.