I will be fighting until the end of the season to help the team achieve its objectives for the season.
When you see that single word and are a supporter of FC Barcelona, there is only one image that comes to mind …
Today, Carles Puyol announced that at the end of the season, he will be leaving the ranks of FC Barcelona. He didn’t take any questions, for what questions can there be, really, of a man who has given absolutely everything for the club that he loves. Why? What made you decide? Did you consult with the coaching staff? Like one of his unstinting tackles, in less than two minutes, the hammer came down. That’s it. No questions. Thank you.
Nor should there be questions, because none of it matters to a man whose very presence, for me more than Lionel Messi, brings something intangible to the side. From the moment of his debut in 1999 when he ran onto the pitch as if he was on fire to his most recent appearance, when he ran onto the pitch as if he was on fire, half-measures have never had anything to do with this indomitable player.
Mundo Deportivo once ran a graphic that contained all of the body parts that Puyol has broken or damaged over the course of his career. It was astounding. He would come back from injury, roar full speed ahead, and break something else. He would break things while he was rehabbing other broken things. And for most players, we would say, “Hey, a little circumspection probably wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
Not for Carles Puyol. Not only is that lack of restraint one of his most endearing qualities, but it is also one of his most essential. Always on, and demanding that everyone around him is always on. Screaming at Pique, for no other reason to make sure his centerback partner was paying attention and fully focused. Throwing up his arms in exasperation at errors by teammates, then pulling them aside to explain exactly what they did and didn’t do, and how to correct it.
No quarter given and none asked is a cliché, except when it isn’t. No player embodies what this club stands for as far as I am concerned, more than Carles Puyol. Fire and class on the pitch, hard work to prepare for being on the pitch in between appearances. When teammates undertook a shimmy to celebrate a goal, Puyol charged in to say “Break that crap up. Act like you’ve done it before and show some class.”
It speaks volumes about Puyol and the way that he plays that it’s so surprising that he is only 5’10”. Nobody ever complained about short CBs when he was on the pitch, nobody ever said as they do now that Barça could use a stronger, taller CB. He has had 392 appearances for Barça to date, and can expect a few more in the run-down of this season where suddenly, every match is a final.
And we will celebrate those appearances. And there will be times where he defies everything to look like That Puyol, our Capita, and some will say that his decision was premature, that he should stay. But deep down they will know, just as Puyol knows.
Age is nasty, and life is cruel. Second by second, minute by minute, we are no longer what we once were, even those of us who don’t test our limits to discover precisely how inexorable that diminution is. Children want to become grownups, grownups age and want to be young again. The one thing that everyone does is age. The other thing that everyone does is rail against that aging in one way or another.
Sport is that way in which, 90 minutes at a time, the world stops. The fervent supporter pulls out that shirt that he bought 15 years ago and tells himself it still fits the same. He makes that excited sprint up the steps to his seat and tells himself that it doesn’t feel any different. This also makes it easy to deny what is happening to the athletes who make up the teams that we champion. As long as they don’t age, fail and become less than they were, neither do we. It’s part of the bond that draws us to sport in some ways.
So when a lionheart such as Puyol decides to hang it up, we resist, because how do you extricate yourself from the players that you love? And if they are getting old, what’s happening to me? Moreover, it’s the quality of a great player that makes us want that quality forever. Don’t stop. Ever. Friends tell you that you’re fine. Some pundits watch you play and say you’re fine. But the player knows. And if he is honest, he knows what he must do.
Puyol has lost a step, maybe two. He can’t leap as high. There are times that you watch him play and you know that he sees, understands, has already anticipated what the next move by an attacker will be. But these days, he is sometimes a step behind, falling short at the intersection of knowledge and capability. We have seen it, everyone has talked about it, so it should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone that Puyol too has seen it, and decided that this is it. That if he can’t help, to the fullest of his abilities, the club that he loves, he should stop. Further, if he can’t perform to the standard that he himself would demand of an FC Barcelona defender, he should stop.
I have been proud of our Capita on many an occasion, but it’s hard to think of a time that I am more proud of him than right now, for taking what must have been an exceptionally difficult decision. He loves the game, he loves his club. In that karmic coin toss this decision makes clear which one he loves more.