Nearly is nowhere in football, but the trinket-embracing Carles Puyol, a defender who is heaving under a sweltering salvo of worthy baubles, has never been a nearly man. The Barcelona captain hoisted up the European Cup for the second time in four years on Wednesday. It concludes a prodigious 12 months in which Puyol landed Euro 2008 with Spain before his club claimed La Liga and the Copa del Rey. The World Cup in South Africa next summer could complete a sweltering sideboard of personal fortune.
There are more visible figures in this Barca side, but none more pertinent than their timeless torchbearer. With around five minutes left of the final, his shaggy mop of locks emerged unmarked inside the opposing area. The heart of Manchester United had been ripped out by the scale of Samuel Eto'o and Lionel Messi's incisiveness, but Puyol, the heartbeat of Barca, was hellbent on dragging his limbs forth for another daring raid.
In the death throes of the final, Puyol was alive and kicking furiously. The United keeper Edwin van der Sar swatted away his effort. Scoring was probably the only thing Puyol did not fraternise with in Rome. If Lionel Messi was man of the match, then Puyol is a man of the times, the man of his people. He and the meticulous Xavi are the lifeblood of Barca, 24-carat supporters of Catalonia. In dispatches yesterday from Rome's front line, he sounded like a field marshal. "I dedicate this to our people, who have fought and experienced the same suffering as the team," he said.
Puyol is an attacking atom bomb, a thirtysomething defender who fits snugly into Barca's philosophy of ball retention. Possession at Barca is nine-tenths of the law. Sylvinho, at 35, deployed on the left side, similarly made a mockery of the theory that age would prove irksome. Both full-backs were evergreen wonders. Puyol has never been viewed as the most fashionable of figures, ranging from the barnet that reminds one of Paul Michael Glaser in his Starsky and Hutch heyday, to his somewhat exasperating representations. He is perceived to have a willingness to dive, indulge in gamesmanship and a penchant for mouthiness. On the flipside of that coin is noteworthy assets: he possesses a win-at-all costs mentality that befits such a protruding leader
Puyol apparently began entertaining notions of life in football as a goalkeeper. It is the only position Puyol does not seem to play. He was named in Uefa's team of Euro 2008 as a central defender. He is a defender with a licence to roam as freely as an attacker. Rafael Marquez, Daniel Alves and Eric Abidal sat out the final due to injury and suspension, but Barca relied on Puyol in their hour of need.
All clubs have such a player, a cult hero, a figure opposing fans love to hate, but there is only one Carles Puyol. He is firmly entrenched in Barcelona. He is devoted to their workings. @Email:email@example.com