He belongs to Krypton, was sent to Earth by his scientist father. Often his abilities are described as – “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound.” That’s Superman for you. Otherwise known as Clark Kent. Well, this is purely a work of fiction by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Clark Kent doesn’t exist. Neither does Superman. But Carles Puyol surely does. Perhaps the closest you get to Superman.
Earth may not have a man of steel, but she surely has the man of granite – a man, man enough to get himself stapled (yes, you read it correct – stapled) and get on with the game. Such is the grit, determination and ability to withstand pain for the greater good, which makes Carles Puyol the lionhearted leader that he is. With almost two decades of unadulterated service to the Catalan club, Puyol is surely the talisman of FC Barcelona (if you thought its Lionel Messi, that is).
Without an iota of doubt, Puyol has to be one of the all time greats at the Camp Nou. The captain of the current Barca team – often considered as one of the greatest (if not the greatest) teams to have graced the planet – Puyol has been the epicentre of inspiration and dedication, whenever the team ran out of these. From a goalkeeper to a striker to a defensive midfielder, captain Carles finally settled as a defender and is as comfortable as fullback as he is as a centre-back. Awards in the form of ‘UEFA Best European Right Back in 2002‘, ‘UEFA Best European Centre Back’ in 2005, 2006 and 2008 and the ‘UEFA Club Best Defender’ trophy in 2006, bear testimony to Puyol’s versatility, resilience and character. However, with time and age, the legs of the captain have taken a toll; but even today, Puyol on his day, is good enough to keep even the best of strikers in his pocket.
Sid Lowe describes him perfectly as – “Barcelona’s very own Captain Caveman, playing with his heart on his sleeve and his hair in his eyes, screeching into challenges, never, ever letting up. Rough and rugged.” Carles might not be as technically gifted as his current defensive partner Gerard Pique, he however commands the defense and ergo it is in his presence that the image of Pique is projected as one of the best central defenders. The point to be noted here is Pique’s lackluster outings are usually in the games that he has to play without Puyol. Last season too, the defensive frailties were apparent and the absence of the ever-influential captain, calm yet energetic, was manifested in the team’s attitude and body language. Guardiola just didn’t have anybody on the pitch to take care of the drooping shoulders. An obedient follower and a stimulating leader – Puyol was missed whenever he didn’t take the pitch.
Puyol started for Barcelona as a 17-year old kid. He went on to make his debut at the age of 21 and quite surprisingly appeared pedestrian. The kid from the small town of Pobla de Segur, didn’t quite have the best of techniques or the ability to distribute the ball with panache or the speed to catch up with faster oppositions. However, the desire, passion and the heart to make it big and give it all made him what he is today. Probably the current Barcelona is the best that the world has seen in quite some time and the Xavis or the Iniestas or the Messis might just hog the limelight, but at the end of the day the team without Puyol definitely lacks character.
He isn’t sometimes referred to as the man of granite without a reason. Recently, Sports Today published a graphic depiction of the injuries the man has suffered over the years – The 22 Miracles of Puyol. 22 injuries succumbed and more often than not, Carles has attempted the audacious recovery before time. The recent horrendous injury to his arm against Benfica might have ruled him out for eight weeks, but be not startled if you eventually see Carles playing or ready to play before deadline. Vilanova has been very prudent with players returning from major injuries. Despite David Villa’s impactful cameos, he still isn’t pushing him to start, thereby allowing the striker to get into the groove gradually. Despite the lack of proper defensive cover, it might not be surprising if Vilanova allows Puyol to recover to the fullest instead of rushing him, as the Barca manager knows the importance of longevity in the case of the talismanic captain, if they have to challenge on all fronts.
“I don’t have Romário’s technique, [Marc] Overmars’ pace or [Patrick] Kluivert’s strength. But I work harder than the others. I’m like the student who is not as clever, but revises for his exams and does OK in the end,” Puyol once said. A humble human being that he is, Puyol clearly is as adept in scoring goals as he is in stopping them. His goals in the World Cup 2010 against Germany and in the 2-6 humiliation of Real Madrid at the Bernabeu, are of similar mould and impact.
A spirited captain on the pitch, Puyol is an equally good individual off it. His gesture to allow Eric Abidal to lift the UEFA Champions League Trophy after beating Manchester United at Wembley exemplifies his greatness as an individual. At an age of 34, Puyol might just be in the twilight of his career, however, his presence is still a matter of concern for opposition – whoever it may be. The day the Caveman decides to hang up his boots, not only will Barcelona lose a great son, but football as a whole would lose a fabulous individual – an inspiration to many!
Note: In the event of an extremely unfortunate injury to the Barca captain, TheHardTackle wishes him a speedy recovery and a long and healthy life. #ÀnimsPuyi