Even the staunchly Madridista Marca was yesterday full of tributes to the Barça captain following his announcement that he will leave the club at the end of the current season. He is described as the guts of Barça and Spain while Pique calls him his guardian angel and Ronaldo speaks of him being an example.
There are also videos highlighting moments of his career in the Blaugrana. Telling Pique to dry his eyes and get on with the game when he was struck by a lighter thrown from the crowd. Lambasting Thiago and Dani Alves for over-celebrating a goal during a 7-0 mauling of Rayo Vallecano. Scoring for his new born daughter. Giving Abidal the captain’s armband and the limelight when celebrating winning the league last year. Kissing the same piece of Catalan red and yellow cloth after scoring a trademark bullet header against Madrid in the Bernabeu. Suffering several career stalling injuries.
Every snippet is a testament to the type of man Carles Puyol is. Strong, dignified, warm, generous, passionate, brave. Unsurprising traits when you learn of the stock he comes from. From a father who, despite the wealth of his son, continued in his manual labour job and died tragically aged 56 whilst working on improving the roads of his local province.
The following is a translation of a letter Puyol wrote to Paolo Maldini when the great Italian retired a few years ago. As well as providing a further insight into the character of Carles it should act as a template for the many letters of congratulations the Barça captain will undoubtedly be receiving from fans and fellow professionals alike in the coming months.
I know that, sooner or later, all players have to hang up their boots but, in truth, I thought that you would never have to. You are the great Maldini, invincible. Even at 40 you hadn’t lost your competitive edge.
I was just a kid when you started to play professionally and I have admired you ever since. They say that as we grow up we forget out idols. Well, in my case the opposite has happened. My admiration for you has only increased with the passage of time.
I have admired your defensive concepts, your positioning, your aggression (always sporting), your way to stop an opponent, trying to adapt to their characteristics to neutralise them, your versatility. But above all I have admired the way you live football, with such intensity and with exemplary sportsmanship, something which I have tried, in my own small way, to mirror at Barça.
You never made an inappropriate comment and I don’t remember any dirty tackles from you either. You have proven that you don’t need to resort to violence to be one of the best defenders in history. You have brought dignity to the work of us footballers who don’t score the goals.
As you see (and already know) you have been a reference for me. A mirror. You have shown me that, regardless of the match, a player must concentrate fully using all his senses.
Your consistency has been rewarded with a lot of titles and you have excelled at the highest level for so many years with both Milan and Italy; no easy feat.
Now that you say goodbye to football I only feel bad that I was not able to realize one of my dreams: to play by your side.
Anyway, football will never be the same without Maldini. I mean this. It is not only Milan that is losing something with your retirement. All of us that have admired you, and will continue to admire you, are also losing something important.
I wish for you a future filled with happiness.
Thank you so much for what you have given to football and for being who you are.