Alex Philpott takes us through why it’s time for all of us to move on from Carles Puyol and embrace his replacement, Marc Bartra.
Carles Puyol being helped off the pitch is not an uncommon sight these days, not that it makes it any easier to watch. Part of me secretly believed that he would simply play forever, driven on by his devotion to club and sport. Unfortunately this belief is not the reality that stares us in the face. The dogged talisman of Barcelona is as mortal as the rest of us and while the mind is willing, the body is weakened.
Puyol himself admitted than should he continue to be blighted by injuries he would be forced into retirement. After being forced to depart the Levante match, it seems ever more likely that the man who has lifted 21 trophies in the Barcelona colours will have played his last season.
While the talk of the press last summer centred around Neymar and whether the Barça starting eleven was big enough for two superstars the biggest issue with the squad was commonly overlooked. Barcelona need a centre back, and with Puyol unable to manage the defensive line, they need a defender who is also a leader.
Mascherano and Piqué are able deputies, but lack a little je ne sais quoi. Undoubtedly a new defender will arrive in Catalonia before the 2014/15 season, but the candidates whose names usually crop, while talented, cannot fill Puyol’s boots.
We arrive at Marc Bartra, still something of an unknown quantity to most but the player who feels best suited to replace Carles Puyol. Twelve years at the club, instilled with the clubs famous philosophy his remains humble and respectful. Often speaking of the lessons he has learned from Puyol and his fellow defenders.
Last season he took his first tentative steps into the first team, looking equal measures promising and nervous. This season he has looked defiant, relaxing into his more integral role with confidence. He has put in a string of solid displays alongside Piqué and Puyol and frankly outshined them both.
Like anyone to emerge from La Masia his passing is excellent, recording a success rate of 92% this season. While the manager will change the philosophy remains. A Barcelona defender will always be required to display precise short passing, Bartra ticks that box. Combined with his astute positioning and great tackling he displays all the makings of a great centre back. Naturally due to his tender age his leadership skills are still tucked away, and it will be a while before we see him commanding the line as Puyol does.
Barcelona may wave goodbye to a few greats in the coming seasons, and times may not be as golden as they were under Pep Guardiola yet with Marc Bartra secured at the club they have the successor to Carles Puyol and the future custodian of the Blaugrana back line.