How often does it happen that when you think of a club – that one player donning the club’s colors is the first thing that springs to your mind? Not very often. It’s not common for one player to become a personification of over a hundred year old institution. But such has been the career and character of Carles Puyol that he has almost become synonymous with the club as illustrious as Barcelona. Here’s a short summary of his remarkable career:
1978: Back in the days when Argentine legend Mario Kempes was scoring goals by the truck load for Valencia and lifting Argentina’s first ever World Cup, Quini was blazing through opposition defences and was on his way to become a Gijon legend, and the Austrian Hans Krankl was winning a Pichichi in his inaugural season for the Blaugrana; in the sleepy Catalan village of La Pobla de Segur, Carles Puyol was born on 13th April 1978.
1993: In 1993 he started playing for his local club Pobla de Segur where he began as a goal keeper; however shoulder injuries forced him to move position and he became a striker in those early days.
He recalls those beginnings: “My parents were skeptical about me becoming a footballer and encouraged me to study.”
1995: The biggest move of his career came when the 15-year-old joined Barcelona’s famed youth academy La Masia, where his development into a defensive stalwart began to take shape. He began his first match for the club’s reserve team as a right back.
1998: It was a big year for the 19 year old in terms of decision making when the club accepted an offer from the Andalusian outfit Malaga because of his position in the pecking order. Determined to succeed at the club of which he was a lifelong supporter and buoyed by his friend Xavi’s first team debut he refused to move.
1999: His conviction and determination was soon rewarded when the keen eye of the-then manager Louis van Gaal spotted his potential and gave him his debut in a 2-0 away win at Real Valladolid on 2nd October 1999. Thus began the journey that would soon conquer everything in its wake.
Puyol made his debut in 1999
2001: The rock of a centre back was not averse to occasional forays in the box, one such run down the right wing and subsequent one-two with Javier Saviola saw him score his first senior goal in a 4-0 romping of Valladolid.
2005: Puyol had to wait five years for what turned out to be the first of many titles when he lifted the La Liga winner’s title, in his first year as the club captain on 14th May 2005 under the Dutch manager Frank Rijkaard.
2006: The 2005-06 season turned out to be a fruitful one for the Catalan legend when he captained the club to the league, and Champions League double after defeating Arsenal 2-1 in Paris. It also ended the Blaugrana’s 14 year wait for their second Champions League win since 1992.
2008: Puyol was an integral part of the Spanish national team that won the European Cup in 2008 to end their 44 year long quest to win an international title, as they defeated the Germans in the final, courtesy of a lone Fernando Torres strike.
2009: The first season under another club legend, Pep Guardiola turned out to be the most successful one in the club’s history as the team led by Puyol on the pitch won its first ever treble.
That same season Puyol played perhaps the most remarkable match of his career in the 6-2 defeat of eternal rivals Real Madrid where he scored the second goal and celebrated by kissing the Senyera in front of the travelling Barcelona supporters, an act that endeared him ever more to the adoring fans.
In December of that same year Puyol became the first Barcelona captain in history to lift the Club World Cup trophy.
2010: In the summer of 2010, the Spanish national team did justice to their enormous talent and lifted its first ever World Cup in South Africa. An integral part of the team’s defense Puyol, who scored a typical imperious header which proved to be the deciding goal in the semi final against a strong German side. Not a prolific scorer but Puyol had the acute sense of timing to be at the right place to head the important ones in. This was a perfect example.
2011: The 2010-11 proved to be another historic year for Carles Puyol when the club won its third Champions League under his leadership. In an ultimate act of selflessness and magnanimity he let Eric Abidal, who had returned after suffering from a liver tumor, collect the trophy at the historic Wembley.
2014: After 15 remarkable years, the last three of which were continuously plagued by injuries, Puyol announced his retirement.
By the time he finished his astonishing trophy cabinet include six league titles, three Champions League trophies, two Spanish Cups, two UEFA Super Cups, six Spanish Super Cups and two Club World Cups, along with a European Championship and World Cup with the national side.
Post retirement the club legend was appointed as the assistant to the club director of football Andoni Zubizarreta. He might have retired but his legend will forever be remembered by the club and its faithful.