Carlos Puyol announcement: No obvious successor for Barcelona legend and master of reinvention

The Spanish centre-back has said he will quit Barcelona at the end of the season

Never underestimate a determined player’s ability to reinvent himself. Carles Puyol’s announcement that he will leave Barcelona at the end of the season provoked a fully-deserved flood of tributes but most of the praise focused on the trophies and not on Puyol as the role model for any player pigeon-holed early in his career.

When he turned up at Barcelona’s La Masia academy at 17 he had played much of his youth football as a winger. By the time he was given his debut under Louis van Gaal in 1999 he had developed into a marauding right-back but rarely had he shown signs that he would ever have the composure to hold a defence together.

The Kamikaze nature of many of his forward forays could have ruled him out as a candidate for central defence but he added extreme levels of concentration to his physical and leadership qualities and the player nicknamed “Tarzan” turned into the commanding central defender who lifted six out of a possible six trophies in Pep Guardiola’s first full year as Barça coach.

It was fitting that, because injury had ruled Gerard Pique out of the current Spain squad, he was in Barcelona to watch his friend announce his retirement from the club. Together they formed the base of the Spain side that won that World Cup four years ago in Johannesburg.

“It’s impossible for me to lose my concentration for even for a second because I always have the same song playing behind me: ‘Geri Geri Geri,’” Pique said about his partner back in 2009. “When I turn around and say to him, ‘what’s up?’ he’ll say ‘nothing, just stay awake’.”

 

The author of Barça – the making of the greatest team in the world, Graham Hunter, labelled that partnership with the sophisticated Pique “the odd couple” – Pique the face of men’s fashion line Mango and Puyol the man who brought the European Cup on to the stage at the Uefa Champions League gala draw in 2011 dressed in a pair of Bermuda Shorts.

The short-shrift Puyol gave the game’s off-the-field codes of etiquette contrasted with the way he defended codes of conduct on the pitch. The image of him cutting short a goal celebration dance routine by Thiago and Dani Alves because he felt it was disrespectful to the opposition is one of many that will sum him up as a sportsman.

As will his decision to allow Eric Abidal to lift the European Cup in his place in 2011 after the defender had come back from cancer surgery to play at Wembley.

Most Barcelona supporters believe the club should have replaced him a long time ago. Eight goals have been conceded from corners this season – mistakes that Puyol, in his pomp, would never have allowed.

In Sergio Ramos the Spain side have a ready-made replacement but Barça have no in-house substitute … unless someone can reinvent themselves just as “Tarzan” did.

Brazil face a battle to stop the European talent drain

Picture the scene: the World Cup final on July 13 in the Maracana with Spain and Brazil heading into extra-time when a pass from Thiago Alcantara puts Diego Costa through and he scores to make Spain world champions.  The host nation denied a home victory by two Brazilians.

Thiago kicked his first football in Brazil but moved to Spain when he was four and has long had Spanish-Brazilian dual nationality. But he could have chosen to play for the team of his father Mazhino, who represented Brazil in two World Cups; instead he chose Spain.

Diego Costa was 17 when he arrived in Spain and has had dual nationality for less than a year. When Vicente Del Bosque “signed up” Costa, it looked like the steal of the century. It is little wonder that the Brazilian Football Confederation has sent one of Luis Felipe Scolari’s assistants, Alexandre Gallo, to Europe to stop the talent drain.

Portugal are interested in taking Porto’s young Brazil-born striker Kelvin. Spain have shown an interest in Real Madrid’s Brazilian winger Jean Carlos and Barcelona’s 15-year-old Brazilian midfielder Lucas Vega.

Brazil-born youngster Andreas Periera is on Manchester United’s books and has played at youth level for Belgium and Marcos Lopes at Manchester City is another who could slip through the net.

Gallo’s job is to make sure it doesn’t happen.

Diego Costa will make his debut tonight in Spain’s attack and Bayern Munich’s Thiago will start in midfield – harmless enough in a friendly in Europe but the last thing the hosts will want to see this summer.

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