Puyol, Calm & Composed – Will Barca Cope Without Captain Fantastic?


Messi is the best player in the world. Yes, I know. Some of you think it’s Ronaldo. I respect that. Some of you feel it is Casillas. A case could definitely be made. Some of you don’t even think Messi is the best player at Barca. An interesting notion. But instead of debating all these points-of-view, let’s just agree – so we can move on with this post – that Puyol is NOT the best player at Barca. He is, however, the most important.

The distinction between being the best and being the most important is a crucial one. The importance of a player is based not just on the player’s role but also on the difficulty in replacing the player. So, while Messi’s role of top goal scorer and bogeyman-in-chief can be distributed to Villa/Sanchez and Iniesta respectively, and Xavi’s role to Iniesta and Fabregas, Puyol has no ready replacement, at least as a presence on the field. And that is the most important contribution Puyol makes in games. His very presence galvanises the team. He leads from the front. He compensates for his own shortcomings in technical ability (at least when compared to his teammates) through sheer force-of-will. Puyol is both Barca’s heart and its soul. In Sid Lowe’s words, “Puyol is Barcelona’s very own Captain Caveman, playing with his heart on his sleeve and his hair in his eyes, screeching into challenges, never, ever letting up. Rough and rugged.” He is also the undisputed leader. Ever since succeeding Luis Enrique in 2004, Puyol has been the on-field general for Rijkaard, Guardiola and Vilanova. In his absence Barcelona’s defence seems more uncertain, more likely to collapse – an observation that is countered by statistics on Barca’s official website and on Football Espana.

But numbers do not tell the whole story, nor the only one. Take Barca’s 2nd leg of the Supercopa against Real this season. Both of Real’s goals were down to shoddy defending (and a glorious Ronaldo flick for one of them). After the first goal there was no Puyol to grab the defenders and shake them into focus. There was no Puyol to lead by example. Unlike the first league El Clasico of last season, where Valdes’s 1st minute howler led to a Benzema goal. Puyol roared at the defence then walked back to Valdes…and had a quiet word with him, letting him know that there was no need to panic or to start booting the ball up the field. Stick to the plan. Barca won 3-1.

So can Barca cope without Puyol for another month, especially as they did not splash the cash for a backup centre-back? After all, while they may not be as watertight or as confident without Puyol in defence, the fact of the matter is that they still win. Let’s take a look at Barca’s fixtures over the next 4 weeks:

vs Seville (away)
vs Benfica (away)
vs Real (home)
vs Deportivo (away)
vs Celtic (home)

Before the El Clasico on October 7th are two difficult away games, both of which should provide some stern tests for an unproven back-line combination. And then there’s El Clasico. There is a distinct possibility that Barcelona will have an eight-point lead over Real heading into the game. A Barca victory and an eleven-point gap may put the title beyond Real even this early in the season. A defeat and the gap narrows and Real gain momentum.

So can Barca overcome the absence of their fan-of-Napalm-Death talisman and put the season well on track? Will the stand-in players deliver? The next fortnight will go a long way towards defining Barcelona’s season, and towards determining whether the team can truly function in the long-run without Puyol.

What do you think? Does Barca rely too heavily on Carles Puyol? Will they be able to overcome the sternest of tests without him in their back-line? Do they need to buy a replacement or wait for one of the La Masia prodigies to take over? Share your thoughts with us on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

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5 Comments on “Puyol, Calm & Composed – Will Barca Cope Without Captain Fantastic?”

  1. moe September 30, 2012 at 12:02 pm #

    Solid Article! Really well written.
    I always like to compare him to Paolo Maldini. The way the Milan legend carried his team over the latter part of his glorious career is almost identical to the situation at Barcelona. If we look at the 2 careers we can draw so many parallels.
    Most important to this article he carried Milan with the same calmness and composedness as Puyol.

    Also, I would like to talk about the role of Gerard Pique. He in my mind is an indispensable part of this Barcelona puzzle. The future of Barcas back line lies with him. He has had a remarkable few years at the club, but in order for him to excel in the future, he needs to evolve his game. Evolve it into something that Barca can rely on for the void Puyol leaves. I do not see him there yet, but can certainly see him capable pulling off.

    • Humaid September 30, 2012 at 12:40 pm #

      There are definitely many similarities between the Puyol and Maldini stories. However, Maldini is one of the best defenders of all time, while Puyol (though one of Barca’s greatest players) will never make the back 4 of an all time XI.
      And yet, his importance to Barca is undeniable. Same story last night. Barca won. Thanks to some theatrics (and finishing) from Fab and some unrelenting pressure in the last quarter of an hour. But it was a lucky escape. Like it was against Granada. And Moscow. That won’t keep happening. Barca have already “used” a huge chunk of their season’s luck (let’s assume every club has an annual quota).
      As for Pique, he needs to step up and show everyone that he WANTS to be the leader post-Puyol. He has the talent, but there’s still a lot more required.

      • Asfand September 30, 2012 at 8:48 pm #

        Humaid, you’ve raised an interesting point. But in my opinion, Puyol and Messi are equally important to Barca, for different reasons. Being a defender myself, I have immense respect for Puyol and believe that he is the main reason why the team has been solid at the back for several seasons now, which is equally important to winning as goals are. That being said, Messi is the overwhelming factor when it comes to outscoring their opponents on a regular basis, e.g. he’s been involved in at least 9 goals out of the team’s 17 in La Liga this season. In fact, his contribution has been increasingly immense since the 2005-06 season and maybe the same could also be said for Puyol but his appearances have significantly declined over the past 2 seasons.
        As far as Puyol’s potential replacement is concerned, Pique doesn’t have the presence or leadership skills that are required to replace Puyol as the main man at the back. Mascherano is more suitable for that role (although he’s not nearly as commanding in the air), but unfortunately he hasn’t stepped up yet. And as far as I know, the youngsters that have come up from the B team will need a lot of time to reach the required level. Barca desperately need to sign a top defender in January or they could continue to ship goals as they have done in their last 4 games in all competitions. Any preferences for who they should bring in?

  2. Humaid September 30, 2012 at 10:30 pm #

    Asfand, I agree that Messi is very important to Barca. However I feel that Barca would be able to cope without Messi (in the odd, crucial game) much better than they would without Puyol. Messi has been scoring goals for fun since taking over a central role, but that has also led to the entire team adapting around it, and has also had consequences for Messi and Barca – but more on that in an upcoming post 🙂

    As for Pique, I think he does have the presence and skills required to be a leader at Barca. I just think he has to step up and take the role head-on…and I feel that he may do that were he to mentor a La Masia grad in a CB role.

    As for who Barca could buy to fill the CB role, that’s a more difficult question to answer. My immediate response would be Silva or Kompany, but both will be nigh on impossible to acquire. Taking into consideration that the CB would have to be comfortable receiving and distributing the ball, I can’t think of a “must have” option. The trio of Hummels, Kadlec and Subotic at Dortmund are interesting choices. While not a favourite of mine, Jerome Boateng is generally doing well and has all the attributes of a successful CB. He is also skillful on the ball. And finally there is Chiellini. While he looks like an old-school Italian defender (and in many ways is), Chiellini is actually good with the ball at his feet as well. If I were to have my pick from the above, I would move for Hummels; he is a good defender, he is technically sound and he is only 23.

  3. Omer October 3, 2012 at 4:04 pm #

    Last year; Arsenal were over-reliant on RvP –
    30 goals and 9 assists.
    Total Arsenal premiership goals = 74
    which leads to RvP having a role in 52.7%

    Barca on the other hand scored 114 goals.
    of which Messi had 50 goals and 15 assits.
    which leads to an astonishing 57% of Barca’s goals depending on Messi.

    Forget stats even. While Puyol remains a beast and a leader – Messi brings that little big of magic which you can’t train for or even plan for.

    For 89 mins Puyol may defend with his body on the line; but it takes 30 seconds of Messi magic for him to go past 5 defenders…..

    On the other hand; I just asked myself that as an Arsenal fan which player would I want more from Barca – Messi or Puyol and for some reason my mind is saying Puyol but the heart says Messi?

    p.s. the defender Barca will get will be Vermaelen – he’s just been made Captain so you know he will be going soon…..

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