Carles Puyol has done the right and honourable thing in announcing that he will leave Barcelona at the end of the season.
In all probability, Puyol’s decision has been a case of jumping before he was pushed, because the simple truth is that he is no longer good enough to play for Barcelona – and he knows it.
And although he has not officially retired from international football, it is also extremely unlikely that he’ll again pull on the red Spanish jersey that he has served so magnificently.
In truth, though, his Spain career effectively ended a couple of years ago, when he failed to appear at the 2012 European Championship Finals due to one of his many recent injuries.
He has not played a competitive international since October 2011, and his announcement on Monday therefore carries far greater resonance at club level – and there’s no doubt he has made the right decision.
The defender has, of course, been a magnificent servant for his club and country, but there is no room for sentiment in elite professional sport.
If he had stayed at Barcelona beyond the end of the current campaign, he would have been little more than a passenger, filling up a place in the squad that should have been occupied by somebody else.
As Puyol himself acknowledged, he has been unable to return to his best following the ravages of a series of serious injuries, and his decision to do the right thing for the club and leave now rather than hanging on for as long as possible is no surprise, because his entire career has been an ultimate demonstration of selfless commitment to Barca’s cause.
It means he will be remembered for all the right reasons, rather than as a player who tarnished his previously wonderful career by continuing for too long.
And there are certainly plenty of right reasons, because Puyol should be regarded, without any hint of exaggeration, as one of the greatest players to play for both Barcelona and Spain.
For starters, just look at his list of honours, which includes three Champions League crowns, six La Liga titles, a batch of cup trophy successes, a World Cup and European Championships winners’ medal, as well as reaching 100 international caps and playing more games for Barcelona than anyone other than his footballing soul mate, Xavi.
But statistics only tell part of the story. In addition to the facts and figures, Puyol’s contribution to Barca’s identity over the last 15 years has been immense.
Other players might have claimed more headlines, but for many years Puyol was the team’s heart and soul.
Barca's famous tiki-taka, after all, was based around two precepts: fast, short passing and intense pressing of the opposition – Puyol, more than anyone else, set the standards for the latter.
Ultimately, history should regard Carles Puyol as a key component of one of the greatest football teams ever to play the game. His decision to leave now will only serve to protect that legacy.
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