“What’s your problem, can’t you afford the money for a haircut?”
Those were the first words uttered at 19-year-old Carles Puyol after his first training session with Barcelona’s senior team, and they came from legendary manager Louis van Gaal.
How’s that for a warm welcome?
Sixteen years later, Puyol will leave Barcelona as one of the most decorated players in club history. On Tuesday, the veteran defender announced he was leaving the club in the summer.
On-going fitness problems compounded by two knee operations in October conspired to remove the most important trait from Puyol’s game: confidence.
So where does he stand among the greats that have passed through the tunnels of Camp Nou? He’s up there.
His sterling resume includes:
- 392 league appearances
- Six league titles
- Three Champions League titles
- Two Spanish cups
- A World Cup and European Championship with Spain
Unfortunately, Puyol’s tenure with a club he’s meant so much to will end with a whimper, but it’s worth remembering just how good he was.
He was the lion to Gerard Pique’s gazelle and while not as technically gifted on the ball as his long-time partner, Puyol made up for it with superb positioning and a willingness to put his body in harms way.
What’s next for the lion remains to be seen. A move to North America has been bandied about since he made his announcement this afternoon, and expansion franchise New York City FC seems like an ideal fit.
But there’s a chance Puyol gives Europe one last shot, with teams like Monaco willing to shell out their Champions League cash. He will not be making €10 million per season–his salary at Barcelona–wherever he goes.
There’s time for that discussion later. Today, we remember one of the best defenders to play in the last 15 years and, his heroics for club and country.