Champions League 100 club: Carles Puyol
A first-class defender, Carles Puyol led Barcelona to continental glory in Paris, Rome and London; there’ll never be another like him, according to Gerard Piqué.
Winner (Barcelona 2006, 2009, 2011)
If you don’t remember him …
A one-club man, instantly identifiable by his unkempt mane, Puyol was a defender’s defender, a footballer who may have specialised in old-fashioned defensive arts – last-ditch tackles and dramatic blocks being his forte – but was as comfortable with ball to feet as Barcelona’s lofty standards demand, perhaps the result of a youth career spent in attacking positions.
Confident anywhere across the back line but at his best in central defence, from where he captained Barça charismatically from 2004 until his 2014 retirement, Puyol had a trophy-laden career with club and country, winning every major trophy possible – including the UEFA Champions League on three occasions, the Spanish Liga six times, UEFA EURO 2008 and the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
How he made it to 100 appearances …
Puyol’s UEFA Champions League debut came under Louis van Gaal in a 5-0 win against AIK in October 1999, the defender featuring sporadically that season as Barcelona lost to domestic rivals Valencia in the semi-finals. The Blaugrana struggled the next campaign, but Puyol would play a key role in 2001/02, helping the Catalans to the semis where they were eliminated by Clásico adversaries Real Madrid.
Nevertheless, Puyol became familiar with the competition’s later stages – reaching the knockouts every season for the rest of his career – and finally got his hands on the trophy in 2006, victory over Arsenal in the final dispelling memories of recent exits to Juventus and Chelsea. The skipper missed just one game en route to Paris glory and was similarly influential three years later when Barcelona avenged a 2008 semi-final defeat by Manchester United by beating the English club in the Rome showpiece.
As injuries began to take a toll, Puyol’s on-field influence waned, yet he landed the trophy for a third time in 2011, coming off the bench late in Barça’s 3-1 Wembley success against United, having made his 100th tournament appearance against Real Madrid in the last four. Despite more time on the treatment table, Puyol prolonged his career until 2014, his final continental outing coming in a 2-1 reversal at Ajax in November 2013.
His best moments …
- Puyol showed his enduring class following the 2011 final. After the Blaugrana had dispatched United 3-1 at Wembley, the captain encouraged Éric Abidal, who had undergone surgery for a liver tumour two months earlier, to lift the trophy in his stead. “I can’t explain the emotions,” said Abidal. “I’m so thankful for the gesture.”
- Barcelona entered the 2009 final with a decimated defence – 35-year-old Sylvinho started at left-back and Yaya Touré moonlighted at centre-back – yet Puyol held the back line together, standing firm against Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo. The eventual 2-0 win rounded off a dream campaign for the Catalans and Puyol, who claimed all three major prizes.
- Among his many last-ditch blocks – witness famous stops versus Liverpool and Panathinaikos – the defining image of Puyol came against Lokomotiv Moskva in 2002. With James Obiorah bearing down on goal having skipped past Barça keeper Roberto Bonano further upfield, Puyol raced back and, one on one, blocked the shot with the Barcelona badge on his chest, preserving a 1-0 triumph.
What others said about him …
“From the first day we had a great relationship, both on and off the field. By your side I felt protected and knew that if one day I erred, you’d be there to save me. You’re my guardian angel. I want you to know that I’ll miss our dressing-room chats, your advice and – most of all – your ‘jokes’ on the field. You’re unique and irreplaceable. It makes me laugh when they talk about signing the ‘new Puyol’. Let them keep looking, because they’ll never find him.”
Gerard Piqué, former Barcelona team-mate
“Puyol is the key, not just because he is one of the best defenders in the world but because of his character. He never lets up. If he sees you relax, he’s suddenly at your side demanding more. The best professional I have ever shared a dressing room with, by far. Both before we were winning trophies and during our successful times.”
Xavi Hernández, former Barcelona team-mate
“You helped us so much. By setting an example, not just in words but also actions, every day and in every training session, for all this time.”
Pep Guardiola, former Barcelona coach
“He’s an example on and off the field. He’s the first to come down for breakfast, to come out for training, to do any activity and to speak when required. He’s a key player in the squad.”
Vicente del Bosque, former Spain coach
“He gave 100% in every game, which allowed the team to enjoy itself. Barcelona needed someone like him, someone with his way of being.”
Johan Cruyff, former Barcelona coach
“If you see Puyol train every day you would not say he is 35; he seems like an 18-year-old. For me, he will always be the eternal captain.”
Cesc Fàbregas, former Barcelona team-mate
“He is a natural leader, a person whose name is always linked to Barça. He has been a reference during his time there, an example on and off the pitch. While Puyol is in the world of football, he will be a good example for everyone.”
Thiago Alcântara, former Barcelona team-mate
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