While it is fair to say that Carles Puyol has been by far Barcelona's most accomplished defender of all time, it would be foolish and arrogant of anyone affiliated with the Catalans to say that Puyol still has what it takes to compete with the best attackers in the business.
Making his debut on the 2nd October 1999 against Real Valladolid, Puyol has gone on to represent Barcelona on 581 separate occasions in all competitions and in the process has not only cemented his status as one of the greatest defenders of all time but is also recognised as a club legend, a Catalonian ambassador and hero.
Known for his aggressive playing style, which has arguably made him one of the best defenders, Puyol plays with intensity, commitment and ruggedness. His physique represents a strong man who possesses incredible strength and quick reactions. As a player, he is one who plays with maturity, he has great positional play and plays with unreserved pride in his shirt. Added to this is his great work ethic and leadership qualities.
Undoubtedly, he still possesses the mentality in striving to be the best, however his physical capacity may prove an immense obstacle in his pursuit of first team football. He is way past his peak and is longer as useful as he previously was. In fact, Barcelona should not hesitate one bit to sign a replacement.
Does Puyol still have what it takes to return to his peak?
He was hugely missed in the opening rounds of La Liga and for that matter the Spanish SuperCopa. He was furthered sidelined thanks in large to an elbow injury which he dislocated while attempting a header off a corner against Benfica in the Champions League.
However, whenever he has been injury-free, he has looked a shadow of his former best. No longer is he able to handle the speed of the game, wrong-footed on numerous occasions, in particular against Real Madrid.
Di Maria managed to wrong-foot Puyol en-route to a Ronaldo goal against in a Copa Del Rey clash. Further set-backs have followed, most notably knee injuries, and at 35 years of age, he'll no longer be able to play with the same intensity which made him the one of the best defenders back in his younger years.
Barcelona are fully aware of Puyol's limitations and will surely be lining up replacements to fill the void.
Still, the club may yet offer Puyol a contract extension. Take it as you will, but surely it points to the fact that Puyol will continue to play a a major role in forming Barcelona's defence next season and implies that whoever the Catalan's end up buying will have to settle for a place on the bench. A worrying sign indeed.
"My goal now is to recover from the knee injury and then next season, we'll see. I always take the best decision for Barcelona," he was quoted as saying by Mundo Deportivo as per SkySports.
The 35-year-old has reached a stage in his career where his body is unable to deal with the toils of such a physical game, and should instead either be rested sensibly or informed that his time at the club is nearing an end. However, as the transfer window clock continues to count down to transfer deadline day, the time is running out in order to find an ideal replacement. For Puyol no longer holds the key to Barcelona's defensive woes.
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