The rain poured down as time ran out with the result still at 0-0. Disappointment around the Camp Nou started to spread among the 98,000 people who had managed to get themselves there that December evening in 2008. For many it was a dream come true, but would their dream end like this–goalless in the rain? Carles Puyol had another idea, as he threw himself into the air. He did not think about how he would land or where he would go. He had just one thing in his mind–the goal. His curly locks fluttered in the air as Puyol seemingly emerged from nowhere to propel the ball toward goal, only to see it miss the target. However, the lion, Samuel Eto’o, who always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, was there to get a toe on it–1-0. The striker ran toward the corner, screaming with happiness, yanking on his shirt as the rain poured down, while the whole stadium exploded with cries of “¡Madrid! ¡Cabron! ¡Salud al Campeon!” This is one of the most magical moments of my life.
Eto’o ran toward where we were sitting. He was only five meters away when not only his teammates but the entire bench surrounded him in celebration. My sister was responsible for capturing the entire game on camera, so I frantically turned to her as the players made it back out on to the pitch. “Did you get it? Did you get pictures of his celebration?” She said she thought she had some great shots. I was euphoric.
Looking through the pictures later, I couldn’t find any of Eto’o celebrating. Instead she had captured whom she thought was the goalscorer–Carles Puyol. His reaction — lying on the ground, just screaming from happiness — caused her to think he had scored the opener. I couldn’t blame her, the passion Puyol shows on the pitch can easily fool anyone in these situations.
The whole moment just showed once again how special and fantastic Carles Puyol, our captain, is. Even when Eto’o, the rest of the players, and the entire bench had demonstrated tremendous happiness, Puyol still exuded the most passion.
It has been 13 years since the curly headed 21-year-old made his first team debut. From the very start, the boy showed no fear in throwing himself into the most horrifying situations. What soon emerged was his own style of playing, of defending. With Puyol on the pitch, three different outcomes are possible. The first is if he fails to win the ball, in which case the opponents pass him and go one on one with the goalkeeper. The second possibility sees him win the ball and start a new attack. The third outcome involves putting himself so much on the line that he gets brutally injured.
His is a risky way of playing, but from the age of 21 he has never failed to give his all on the pitch. Carles Puyol has always played this way. Even if he has become more experienced and mature, he still never shies away from a hard challenge. He plays dangerously, not for his opponents, but for himself. He would risk his arm, his leg, an eye, or whatever body part was needed for his team to win. It seems pain holds no fear for him. A different person might not dare to put a toe in, but Carles Puyol will jump right in, head first.
It’s also this style of not holding back on the pitch that has made his parents fearful of watching him play. After the Champions League finals in 2006, 2009 and 2011, the first thing the Barça captain did upon leaving the pitch was call his mother to tell her they had won. His mother was not among the millions of people watching the game. After 13 years with Barça’s first team, Puyol’s mother has yet to see him play. The reason is simple–she can’t stand watching her son hurt himself.
The same was true for Puyol’s father, until the Champions League final in 2006. For the final, Carles’ father went to Paris and was able to see his son lift the trophy for the first time. Sadly, it was also the last game he ever saw, as he tragically passed away the same year from an accident at work. After his death, Carles Puyol broke down, and for two seasons the otherwise dedicated fighter lost focus. But, being the man and player he is, even after the tragedy, Puyol bounced back.
During his time in the first team, Carles Puyol has suffered 35 major injuries. He has had surgery four times, played with a mask on several occasions, has seen blood pour from his head and his arm twist the wrong way. There is simply nothing that can stop him. When he broke his nose in 2003, he was told he couldn’t play, but he asked the medical team to figure out a way to make it possible. He couldn’t let his team down. A special mask was made and Puyol has worn it on several different occasions, suffering from other facial injuries over the years.
His priority is always the team, even now. Last Tuesday, after tests confirmed that his elbow was dislocated, Puyol turned to physiotherapist Juanjo Brau and asked: “I won’t be able to play on Sunday?”. The next day, after leaving the hospital, Puyol tweeted: “Good Morning! The sun always shines again..”. His reaction was one we have come to expect, when he is down he always stands back up, brushes off the dust, and is ready to play again.
It’s hard for anyone to symbolize the heart of Barça better than Carles Puyol. When he is out on the pitch, he gives his all. For Puyol, “Fútbol Club Barcelona represents the country of Catalunya, for me it’s a way of life“. The defender has always supported Barça. Like many of the players in the first team, he grew up loving FC Barcelona. His brother once said in an interview that when they were children, little Carles would refuse to eat dinner if Barça had lost a game, instead going straight to bed. His love for the club has helped him become the player who’d risk his life on the pitch for the team, as well as the ultimate Captain.
When Frank Rijkaard told Puyol that he would be the new Captain for the 2003/04 season, Puyol initially refused. Instead, he insisted that the team should vote on who should wear the Captain’s armband. The team did, and Puyol won by a landslide. His team-mate Ronaldinho once stated that Carles Puyol was born to be the captain of FC Barcelona. It’s hard to argue with that. Carles has become the ultimate captain for the club.
Puyol never lets his teammates rest, not even for one second. In a team that plays the kind of risky football that Barça does, losing focus for one moment can lead to big problems. In an interview, Piqué once described what it was like to play with Puyol. After the captain had just come back from an injury, Piqué turned to his teammate in the middle of the game to tell him how much he’d missed him. Puyol’s response: “shut the hell up and concentrate”. Another time, when the game was stopped with an injury, Puyol started shouting at Piqué, who answered that the captain should calm down. At that time Barça was 4-0 up and there were only three minutes left on the clock. Once again the answer was straight forward: “So what? Focus!”.
One of Puyol’s finest moments as captain came during the 2011 Champions League final. Guardiola showed his final videos, gave some last-minute advice, and read aloud the list of players. Eric Abidal walked up to Puyol and asked him, surprised, “Why aren’t you playing? Did you know he was going to leave you out?”. Puyol replied, “I’m not important right now, you are what matters; don’t worry about me.” It wasn’t the response Abidal was expecting, and he later explained the situation to the media by saying, “Do you have any idea what a fucking badass we have as captain? Do you? Champions League final, they tell him he’ll be warming the bench, and he’s the one comforting me! This is Barcelona.”
Later, Puyol was on the pitch, about to go up to lift the third Champions League trophy of his career, maybe the one that mattered the most to him. It was another great moment for the club he loves, and came after a year of difficulty with injuries. At that moment, Carles Puyol went up to Abidal, gave him the captain’s armband, and told him: you deserve it more.
Numerous moments and images come to mind pop when I think of Carles Puyol: kissing the captain’s armband at the Bernabeu, forming a heart with his hands at Camp Nou, walking without a shirt and only the captain’s armband wrapped around his arm on an ice cold November evening in Copenhagen. It’s hard to imagine anyone being more proud to wear the armband than Carles Puyol, or to be a stronger leader than he has been.
After his injury this past week, someone stated: “When Puyol finally dies, at worst he’ll be out for three weeks.” Another person responded that “Tomorrow they will announce that Puyol will be out for 10 months. On Thursday it will be three months; Friday down to one. On Saturday he will be ‘doubtful’. On Sunday he will play.” Whenever it may be, we all know he will be back. Puyol once said he will play for 10 more years. Though I doubt this statement, it wouldn’t surprise me if he did. When he is down, he always rises again.
This, dear culés, is Carles Puyol, the captain of FC Barcelona.