Emotions ran high at the Ciutat Esportiva Joan Gamper on Thursday as Barcelona paid tribute to Carles Puyol, who reaffirmed his departure from the club at the end of this season.
In a career spanning 15 years at the Camp Nou, Puyol established himself as one of the finest defenders of his era. The club broadcast a live feed of the event as the veteran pieced together his most illustrious journey, per FIFA.com:
This is a very difficult moment for me and I'm very emotional but I will try to enjoy it. I am a man of few words but I will try and explain how I'm feeling. As I said a few months ago, my knee is still troubling me and my time at Barça will end from 30 June.
We've tried to find a solution but that's not been possible. But I want to thank everyone at the club. I can now fight my injury without the pressure of playing. I've done what I've always wanted to do and been very happy.
I've lived the dream of thousands of children and I'm privileged. I came here as a child and I leave with a family. I want to thank all those at the club who have made the club work every day that I have been here.
Puyol first came to La Blaugrana as a teenager in 1995, joining the club's La Masia ranks like so many before him, then working his way into the first team for his 1999 La Liga debut.
Puyol does add, however, that he never intends to become head coach at his soon-to-be former club, struggling to hide his thirst to keep playing on in some regard:
I don't think I'll be a coach, it's not what I want to do most. Maybe I'll change my mind but for now I want to try other things. My main project is to restore my knee. To do this, I must let it rest. I have many plans to make in the coming weeks and I will have to talk to my partner. It hurts not being able to help out on the pitch, which is where I wanted to be. But if I can't do it here, I can hardly do it elsewhere.
I would like to get the knee back to fitness so I can continue in a sporting capacity. I would hope to remain connected to the club, but never as head coach.
Earlier in his career, the veteran shifted about deep-lying midfield and other areas of the back line, but it wasn't until then-manager Louis van Gaal chose to field him in central defence at the turn of the century that Puyol found his rightful place.
Spanish expert Guillem Balague pays tribute to the departing Puyol, referencing the injuries he's accrued over the years as being the main inhibitor in his inability to perform for Barca any longer:
Puyol retires, 14 years in the first team and 21 titles. But now he can't play tennis or run. His priority is not 2 feel like an old man— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) May 15, 2014
However, contrary to Balague's comments, Puyol's teammate Lionel Messi paid his own respects to Puyol back in March, hinting that the defender may yet go on playing when speaking to television station Mundo Leo (h/t official Barcelona website):
It’s a decision that he’s probably thought a lot about, because it’s not easy to make……if he’s said it, it’s because he’s totally convinced and sure about it. He'll be sorely missed, both inside and outside the dressing room.
We wish him the very best in whatever he wants to do. Whether he goes to play somewhere else or wants to do something different, I hope it goes really well. He deserves it, he’s a fabulous person.
During his time as a Barcelona player, Puyol has led the club in their most gilded era, captaining the squad for much of his efforts in winning six La Liga titles, three Champions League crowns, three Copa del Reys, two FIFA Club World Cups, six Spanish Supercups and more.
The latest announcement comes in the same week that goalkeeper Victor Valdes announced that he would officially be cutting ties with Barcelona, per the Mirror's Ben Burrows.
The exits signal the development of a great time in transition in the Camp Nou dressing room, with a lot of experience suddenly leaving the team's ranks for pastures news.
Just what impact that will prove to have on the squad is debatable for now, but Barca will undoubtedly miss two such great bastions of what it means to be part of their organisation.