Last season, Pep Guardiola had claimed that having a fully fit Andrés Iniesta at his disposal had been the best signing of the season. The same can be said now about Carles Puyol. His recovery might well be the difference between success and failure for FC Barcelona this season.
In 2010/2011, the Barcelona captain struggled with his fitness and could only play 28 matches during the campaign. Unsurprisingly, Barcelona didn't lose a single one of those 28 matches and only conceded 13 goals. This is no coincidence; Barcelona's defense is always at its best with Carles Puyol on the side, a trend which started way back in the beginning of the decade.
Barcelona did manage to succeed last season without Puyol, but the defense was clearly more vulnerable without their talismanic leader. Barcelona never really looked like the same invincible unit they had been in November/December after Puyol was sidelined.
The 33-year-old legendary Barcelona captain was operated to his knee after the Champions League final and it is estimated that it will take a three-month period of recovery before he can play again. Puyol feels he can be back sooner than that, but it's absolutely vital not to rush him back. FC Barcelona need a 100 percent fit Carles Puyol, even if it means a slightly longer recovery period.
Xavi Hernandez once stated that Carles Puyol was the most important player in the team, and it's hard to argue with him. He might be the least technically gifted player of Barcelona's vintage XI, but he's the heart of the team. He's the captain and leader of the side, and arguably the world's best defender even at the age at 33. Piqué is an excellent center back, but he clearly performs better with Puyol next to him shouting orders and keeping him focused.
Puyol is the only player in history to have captained three different teams to the European Cup/Champions League title (2006, 2009 and 2011). Quite fittingly, he did it once as a center back, once as a left back and once as a right back, fully displaying his quality and versatility. Puyol has been the leader of Barcelona's defense and one of world's best defenders for the past decade—no matter where he plays, he always excels.
Few would argue that Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo is one of the world's best players, but it has been shown time and again that he can't really do anything even remotely dangerous with Puyol around. The same can be said about many other top attackers. At his best, Puyol is like an impenetrable rock at the heart of the Barcelona defense. When Carles Puyol is fully fit, Barcelona's defense is almost impossible to breach.
Alexis Sanchez is a great player, who will bring even more quality to the side. The same can be said about Francesc Fabregas (if he is signed), but the positive impact of their signings is nothing compared to the negative impact Puyol's absence (or a merely half-fit Puyol) would have. There's nothing more important now for Barcelona than making sure Puyol recovers completely and gets ready for the new season.
Barcelona have the best attacking and midfield players in the world among their ranks, but they need Carles Puyol if they intend to continue their unprecedented domination next season.
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