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 Posted by Dermot Corrigan
Mar 5, 2014

Spain stars react to Puyol Barcelona exit

Barcelona assistant head coach Jorge Pautasso believes that the three-way race for La Liga will go down to the final day of the season.

Andres Iniesta, Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara have all spoken of their respect and admiration for Carles Puyol, who has decided to leave Barcelona at the end of the current season.

Puyol has suffered a number of injury issues over recent seasons, and announced on Tuesday afternoon that he was leaving as he knew himself he could no longer perform at the level required at Camp Nou.

Andres Iniesta and Carles Puyol are among the stars backing the campaign.
Carles Puyol has won six La Liga titles and three Champions Leagues in his 19-year Barca career.

• Tomas: Letter to a legend
• Ledwith: Title race

The 35-year-old centre-half returned from his latest serious knee problem last October and has managed 12 appearances in the four months since, but required intensive recovery work after each game.

Iniesta told El Larguero that the decision was a shame, but had been coming: "We had spoken with [Puyol] over the last few weeks and knew a little about how he was thinking," he said. "It is a real pity that he has decided this, first as a player and then as a person.

"With how clearly he sees things it is difficult to change his opinion. He is someone sees very clearly what he has to do and when to do it.

"If he does not feel he can be at the level this club demands then that is to his honour. Puyol has been the soul of Barca over all this time.

"We will all miss him next season, not just in the dressing-room, but also the fans.

"He represents so many things that we all want to represent. It cannot be easy for a person who has spent so much time there. The season is not over yet.

"There are still some very nice things to enjoy and I hope he can have a sending off at the end of the season in the way a player and a person like him deserves."

Pique -- Puyol’s centre-back partner with both club and country -- wrote on Facebook about how he had enjoyed having a "guardian angel" at his side.

"The day has arrived," Pique wrote. "You are leaving. It’s the law of life, but it is tough for me to imagine Barca without you.

"If I look back and remember Paris or Rome, the first image that comes to my mind is you lifting the European Cup. You gave the honour of lifting the trophy in Wembley to Abi [Eric Abidal], which just makes you even greater.

"My generation and those that come after do not know what the club will be like without 'Puyi' in defence branding the captain’s armband and the number five on the back of his shirt. I think that nothing will ever be the same.

"I met you six years ago. You were the captain and the emblem of the team and I was just a kid arriving, set on conquering the world. From day one we had a great relationship, both on and off the field.

"By your side I felt protected and I knew that if one day I made a mistake you’d always be there to save me. You were my guardian angel. I know that I will miss our talks in the locker room, your advice and especially you giving us hell on the pitch.

"You are unique; a one-off. I find it amusing when they talk about signing 'the new Puyol.' They can look all they want, but they’ll never find it. Thanks for everything, Puyi."

Fabregas told Radio Marca that not every player would have given up the two remaining lucrative years which had remained on Puyol’s Barca contract.

"We could see it," Fabregas said "He is a close friend, you see how he is feeling, his gestures and all that is happening to him.

"It is a very difficult moment for him, and it hurts to decide something so important. Not everyone would have the guts to decide this with two years still on his contract.

"If you see Puyol train every day you would not say he is 35, he seems like a kid of 18. For me he will always be the eternal captain."

Former Barca player Thiago Alcantara told reporters at Spain’s international camp that Puyol is an example for everyone in world football.

"He is a natural leader, a person whose name is always linked to Barca," the Bayern Munich midfielder said. "He has been a reference during his time there, an example both on and off the pitch. While Puyol is in the world of football, he will be a good example for everyone."

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