Barcelona have suggested that Carles Puyol is nearing a return from his long standing knee injury, just as reports in Catalonia say the club have decided against signing a new centre-back this summer.
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Barca had been widely expected to sign a new defender this summer, given Eric Abidal had left the club and with Puyol now 35 and having had his entire 2012-13 season wrecked by ongoing knee problems.
As recently as early August blaugrana sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta indicated the club were working on defensive targets, amid apparently well-sourced speculation that a €20 million plus bid had been made for Chelsea’s David Luiz.
However a ‘summit’ meeting between Zubizarreta, new coach Gerardo Martino and club president Sandro Rosell at the Camp Nou on Tuesday reportedly decided against signing a new centre-back.
Martino is apparently happy to go into the new campaign with Gerard Pique and Javier Mascherano as his first choice pairing at the back, with Puyol, Marc Bartra, 22, and Frank Bagnack, 18, as cover.
The club then released a statement on Wednesday morning via their website, with accompanying photos, which showed club captain Puyol’s recovery had progressed to the point where he could leave the gym and train outside on the pitch at Barca’s Ciutat Esportiva facility.
“On Wednesday morning, Carles Puyol started his recovery programme on a training pitch at the Ciutat Esportiva,” the statement said.
“The captain was joined by physio Juanjo Brau for a workout focused on strength and resistance. Puyol underwent surgery on June 19 to have a Baker’s cyst removed from his right knee. He has been working to get back to full fitness ever since, and missed the trip to Asia in order to concentrate on his recovery programme in Barcelona.”
Later on Wednesday Puyol himself tweeted about his return, saying “Very happy to return to train on the pitch. Each day is another step.”
Muy contento por volver a entrenar en el campo. Cada día un paso más... pic.twitter.com/hV0AEHBp03— Carles Puyol (@Carles5puyol) August 14, 2013
Mundo Deportivo followed the party line on Thursday morning - hailing Puyol’s return as being “like a new signing” on its cover, although the paper did also claim that Luiz had decided he wanted to leave Chelsea for the Camp Nou inside.
Puyol’s knee issues have been so serious that he himself admitted to fearing he would have to retire during the 2012-13 season. In June he cut short a holiday in New York to return to Catalonia for another operation, amid fears that the problem had become chronic.
Barca doctor Ricard Pruna then rejected such claims and predicted Puyol would be able to join pre-season training with his team-mates in mid-July. That now looks to have been an optimistic.