Puyol's love of labour not lost on fans

Photographs of the Barcelona captain Carles Puyol adorn the bars in the small Catalan Pyrenean town of La Pobla de Segur. Puyol is the local boy done very well and images of his unmistakeable, almost medieval looking torso confirm the adoration. Everyone claims to know "Carlito" - reverential short-hand for Barça's assiduous warrior defender - the son of the humble bread man.

La Pobla is not wealthy. Its last period of relative prosperity came when Franco sent workers to build the reservoirs to retain the water which gushes from the mountains, but it is proud to be Puyol's birthplace.

"Everybody in La Pobla is a cule [nickname for Barcelona fans]," says Puyol. "They are more than a club and they affect the mood of the people. Barça are the team who every Catalan child wants to play for. You see Barça on television from an early age and they influence you. When I was young I played as a goalkeeper but I had a back problem and stopped. I played striker too. My parents were sceptical about me becoming a footballer and encouraged me to study but I joined Barça aged 16 after trials. I was in the 'C' and then 'B' teams. Now, my parents are happy. They don't tell me to study any more, but to work as hard because there is competition for places at Barça."

Not that Puyol, 28, need worry about starting in the Champions' League final in Paris on Wednesday. The first name on Frank Rijkaard's teamsheet, he may not boast the raw talent of Ronaldinho, the vision of Deco or the attitude of Samuel Eto'o, yet he is one of Barça's most popular players - an honour rarely bestowed on a defender.

"The fans appreciate that I work my hardest all the time," he explains. "I need no encouragement because I've always been a cule - I've never hidden that fact. I am living the dream playing football for Barça and it is my dream to retire playing here. I know someday that I will have to leave and I am not looking forward to that day. I will work hard to realise my dream but if I can't then I would like to play in another country. I wouldn't want to play in Spain. I would go to England or Italy - Italy first to play where my hero [Paolo] Maldini is."

Barça were last week crowned champions of Spain for the second successive season, but at the start of 2004 they looked washed up after five dire seasons. The Catalans were wrecked by political in-fighting off the field which led to instability and inconsistency on it. Puyol was one of few players to emerge with credit from the dark days of 2000-04, so what went right?

"We found the right way of playing under Mr [Frank] Rijkaard," says Puyol. "He was a top player and he knows what we are thinking. He gives us freedom and doesn't always pressure you, but he can be demanding too. He is very direct and clear in his ideas.

"We win games with tempo - even against the best teams. The team is united and the spirit good. We trust each other and we've worked hard to get to this level. It's time to win the European Cup again. A club of Barça's size should have won more than once."

Nobody could accuse Puyol of not being focused ahead of the final. He might spend what free time he has in the summer in Ibiza, yet he hasn't visited a nightclub on the island for three years and didn't know the name of David Beckham's wife a year into the England captain's Spanish sortie.

"I lead a very quiet life and people leave me alone," he says. "I've not been to a nightclub in Barcelona for years either. When I go out, I stay in a restaurant with my friends."

Puyol, an automatic choice for Spain too, might allow himself a celebratory drink should Barça overcome Arsenal, but he refuses to be drawn on talk of the Catalans being clear favourites.

"We're not into possible favourites," he says. "The final is 50-50; it's the press that say these things. We'll just do our best. We're good enough to win. Now we have to show the people that." The people will be watching closely in La Pobla.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions