Wednesday, March 5, 2014

An elegy for Carles Puyol, part one

For my sister.

Central defenders come in many shapes, sizes and styles – they range from ball-carriers tall and elegant to frenetic barnstormers. There are plenty of variants between. However, the people’s choice award for centre-backs goes to the broad-chested titan – ideally with head wrapped in loosely woven cotton – whose Heimdall-like presence exists only to safeguard their territory from imps of the dark.

This week, one of those defenders is moving on as Carles Puyol has announced that he will leave the only club he as an adult has known.
Puyol was described by theScore as the lion to Gerard Pique’s gazelle; a great shaggy mane belying a forty-axe-handle front. Were it not for him, Spain would certainly not have the first of their two European championships and, with the confidence gained therein, maybe the World Cup and second Euro crown. He was that team’s leader as he had been at Barcelona for a decade.

It is therefore difficult to see immediately who will feel less complete without the other – Barca without Puyol, or the player without the club.

The Heimdall defender stands vigilant and resolute at the entry to Asgard. It is this quality that provokes such a confidence in a club’s support that they, more than a player in any other position, fuse with the club and the two entities become indivisible.

It is no coincidence that the Heimdall defender captains his side. The very concept of the club is meshed so intimately with that centre-back that the player becomes the defining representation of club. John Terry is “Mr. Chelsea” for that same reason. Watching Nemanja Vidic at Inter is likely to feel very odd indeed*.

While many of these players aren’t in fact one-club men, de-fusing them from the club with which they are so readily identified becomes impossible. Part of that comes down to the emotional connection they share with their supporters – I have no desire to see Carles Puyol in any uniform that doesn’t rely heavily on wide blue and burgundy stripes.

Even though I don’t want to see Carles Puyol play for another club, if his choice is to move, I would fully support him. His devotion to Barcelona, outstanding play and nonpareil hair mean he deserves whatever football destination he chooses. In the (extremely) unlikely even he should cross the breach to stand alongside Spain counterpart Sergio Ramos at Real Madrid, Carles Puyol would lose none of my appreciation for all that he has given.

Carles Puyol’s career feels complete. He has worked and he has won. He has nothing left to prove. However, such things often have little impact on when a career ends. Should he want to continue his career at any other club – perhaps on a valedictory tour of MLS with NYCFC – then he should do so with all of our gratitude.

*While these two players are perhaps the best modern comparisons for Carles Puyol and what he represents to their club, it is interesting to note that precisely zero transfer rumours have followed Puyol and he has never been implicated in anything remotely tawdry. Can you imagine Terry or Vidic’s reactions to the play in those heated Barca-Real games of a few years back?

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