CARLES PUYOL: “I’D TELL MYSELF TO BE A LITTLE LESS ROUGH!”

Looking back over a long and trophy-laden career that included lifting six LaLiga Santander titles, former Barcelona captain Carles Puyol says the key to his many achievements was to always give 100%.

Now a LaLiga ambassador, devoted father and social campaigner, Puyol was a fearsome defender of the cause of both Barcelona and the Spanish national team for over 15 years.

Asked for some advice to the youngster who made his Barça debut back in October 1999, Puyol laughs that he might maybe have taken things a bit easier, before recalling that it was his commitment and professionalism that ensure such a successful career.

“I would advise myself to be a bit more careful, not so rough,” the now 40-year-old says with a smile. “But that was the way I was, how I understood the sport, to always go at 100%, and not worry about the risks when I was carrying an injury. But I’m happy with how it went, and if I had not been that way for sure it would have gone differently.”

Born in 1978 in the small Catalan town of Puebla de Segur, Puyol entered Barça’s famous La Masia academy aged 17. He went on to win 23 trophies with his only club, including six LaLiga Santander titles and three Champions Leagues, as well as the Euro 2008 and World Cup 2010 trophies in 100 appearances for Spain. But he says the main motivation for playing was always a pure love of the game.

“For me to be able to play football was a gift,” Puyol says. “I’ve been very lucky as I did it for almost 20 years. Every morning I woke up with a smile, happy to go training. I was one of those players who loved to train and tried to enjoy every day, every session, every game.”

Puyol says that as a young player he learned the importance of training well and eating well from forward-thinking Blaugrana teammate Luis Enrique, later a LaLiga Santander winner as Barça coach and currently Spain national manager.

“I knew that the body and physical conditioning was very important,” he says. “These days players look after themselves a lot more. But I always had it very clear right from the start. My example was Luis Enrique, who always looked after himself a lot. I learned a lot of things from him.”

Already four years into retirement, Puyol says he still looks after himself well, while feeding his competitive streak with games of the popular Spanish racket sport Padel.

“These days I’m a bit more relaxed, although I still like to eat well,” he says. “Sometimes if I have a game of ‘padel’ we’ll have a beer after the third set.”

Puyol has two young daughters with his partner Vanesa Lorenzo, a model, author and yoga expert, and says that since retirement in 2014 he’s been able to really appreciate family life.

“It’s also true that for my whole career, except the last few months, I wasn’t a father,” he says. “Now that I have children, not playing football means I get a chance to enjoy my daughters.”

He still keeps busy professionally, traveling the world to communicate the values he learned during his time as a player.

“I am focused a lot now on my personal brand,” Puyol says. “I travel all over the world as an official LaLiga ambassador and I also work with UEFA, FIFA, Laureus, give speeches at conferences and work in partnership with some brands.”

The same commitment which Puyol put into almost 600 games for Barça over 15 seasons with the first team is now channelled into helping drive positive social change.

“The power which football has is enormous,” Puyol says. “Football moves the masses. Those of us involved in football must be aware of the power we have to help. We also have a responsibility to return to society all that society has given to us.”

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LaLiga and world football braces itself for the first ElClasico of the season

Free scoring stars Ansu Fati, Memphis, Karim Benzema and Vinicius Jr will lead the lines in the long-awaited return of ElClasico at Camp Nou. 

This Sunday’s clash (4.15pm CEST) will be the first ElClasico with a capacity crowd since the start of the pandemic.

The first ElClásico of the season is just around the corner, with FC Barcelona set to take on Real Madrid at Camp Nou this Sunday at 4.15pm CEST. Notably, this will be the long-awaited first meeting between these sides with supporters in the stands since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, ever since Vinicius and Mariano fired Los Blancos to a 2-0 home win in front of a packed Santiago Bernabeu back in March 2020.

Real Madrid come into this encounter on the back of two consecutive ElClasico wins. The first was almost exactly a year to the day since this weekend’s clash, winning 3-1 at an empty Camp Nou in October 2020. After Fede Valverde and Ansu Fati had produced early fireworks with strikes inside the opening 10 minutes, goals from Sergio Ramos and Luka Modrić saw Real Madrid collect all three points.

Six months later they met again under a downpour at the Alfredo Di Stefano Stadium, with Real Madrid edging a thrilling battle 2-1 as Karim Benzema and Toni Kroos’ first half goals proved too much for the Blaugrana, even if they pulled one back through Óscar Mingueza and pushed for an equaliser until the final minute.

Those wins have made it three ElClásico victories in a row for Real Madrid, who hadn’t won back-to-back-to-back matches against their historic rivals since 1978. They haven’t won four in a row since 1965 but will be looking to achieve exactly that when the ball gets rolling this Sunday.

Ansu Fati and Memphis vs Vinícius and Benzema

Barcelona and Real Madrid will be led up front by Ansu Fati & Memphis Depay and Vinícius & Karim Benzema, respectively. The four have started the current LaLiga season like a house on fire, proving themselves to be among the elite group of forward in world football right now. Memphis has already notched four goals in his first ever season in Spanish football, while Vinicius has hit five and laid to rest any doubts about his claims for a starting spot in Carlo Ancelotti’s side. Karim Benzema has scored nine in just eight appearances, showing no signs of slowing down, while Ansu Fati has immediately dazzled following his return from long-term injury, firing in great goals against Levante and Valencia in just a few weeks. By the time Sunday’s match comes around, the 18-year-old will be close to full fitness and be looking to make his mark on the game.

Injury concerns for Barça

All signs point to Koeman being unable to call on three key players this weekend. 18-year-old sensation Pedri, who recently signed a new-long term deal at Camp Nou until 2026, is suffering with a persistent thigh injury and won’t be rushed back for the game – sensibly, bearing in mind the number of games he has played over the last calendar year and the fact that he played through the summer, first at Euro 2020 and then at the Tokyo Olympics.

Also likely to miss out are centre-back Ronald Araujo, who picked up a hamstring injury on international duty with Uruguay, and Ousmane Dembele, who is back in training but yet to play this season after surgery in the summer.

18 years later… Koeman and Ancelotti meet again

Keep an eye on the tactical tussle this Sunday. Ronald Koeman has experimented with different systems already this campaign, oscillating between Barça’s traditional 4-3-3, 3-1-4-2 and 3-4-2-1. Carlo Ancelotti, meanwhile, has implemented a more attacking style of football since taking over the Real Madrid job in the summer – and Los Blancos have scored the goals to vindicate his decision.

The Dutchman and Italian have some parallels to their careers. Both won the European Cup as players, and league titles with multiple clubs as coaches. They met on one occasion during their playing days in a goalless draw between the Netherlands and Italy in 1990, and then took each other on four times as coaches when Ajax and AC Milan met in back-to-back Champions League seasons in 2002/03 and 2003/04. One draw and three AC Milan victories means Koeman is still looking for his first managerial win over Ancelotti, and where better to break that duck than in ElClasico, the biggest club match in world football.

The 183rd LaLiga Santander Clásico

This Sunday’s game will be the 183rd meeting between these two clubs in Spain’s top division, with Barcelona and Real Madrid having met in every single one of the 90 LaLiga Santander seasons to date, with neither side having ever been relegated from the country’s top tier.

Real Madrid edge the overall record thanks to their three recent victories, having now won 75 of the 182 previous league meetings, while Barça have triumphed 72 times alongside 35 draws. To say this rivalry has been finely balanced over the year would be an understatement.

Watch ElClasico live this Sunday on BeINSports at 10:15pm

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LaLiga Santander Matchday 10 preview: ElClasico is back!

The biggest match in club football is just around the corner: FC Barcelona vs Real Madrid, ElClasico, will be played this Sunday afternoon at 4.15pm CEST. Every clash between these two historic foes is special, but this one will be especially thrilling since it’ll be the first ElClásico with fans back in the stands since before the pandemic. Then, for dessert, reigning champions Atlético de Madrid host current LaLiga Santander leaders Real Sociedad on Sunday night.

Before that, the weekend’s action gets underway at the legendary El Sadar on Friday night as high-flying CA Osasuna take on Granada CF. Now that there are no limits on capacity, Osasuna will be able to fill the stands with their famously passionate supporters at their new-look ground, which was redeveloped during the pandemic. Those fans are certainly enjoying the start to the season, with their team flying high in fifth place.

Kicking off Saturday’s action are Valencia CF, who will be looking to end a five-match winless run when RCD Mallorca make the short trip across the Mediterranean Sea to the Spanish mainland. Later that afternoon, Cádiz CF and D. Alavés meet in search of three points that would propel either side away from the bottom of the table. Neither club has had a particularly great start to the campaign, with only one win each, so both sides know this is a big opportunity. Elche CF and RCD Espanyol are both a little higher up in mid-table, but their meeting on Saturday evening is no less important as they face off for the first time in over six years.

This weekend’s Saturday night fixture is Athletic Club vs Villarreal CF, which sees Athletic coach Marcelino welcoming one of his former clubs to Bilbao. There is always something special about a game under the floodlights at San Mamés and this should be an evenly matched affair; both their meetings last season finished 1-1. With both clubs boasting some of the best Spanish talent around, this is certainly one that La Roja coach Luis Enrique will be paying attention to as well.

ElClásico Sunday gets up and running with Sevilla FC vs Levante UD under the Andalusian sun. It required a stoppage time winner from Youssef En-Nesyri for Sevilla to win this fixture last season and Julen Lopetegui would sign up for another three points right now as his men look to keep up their title challenge, while new Granotas coach Javier Pereira searches for his club’s first victory of the season.

Then at 4.15pm CEST it’s time for ElClasico at the Camp Nou. Real Madrid have won the past three meetings against their historic rivals, yet they haven’t won four in a row since 1965. Barça certainly won’t want that to happen in front of their home fans and they’ll take their seats at the Camp Nou with the belief and hope that Ansu Fati can lead the Blaugrana to a famous victory. The teenager, who scored in this fixture last season to become the youngest ever ElClasico scorer, has returned from a long-term injury and has hit the ground running, netting great goals at home to Levante and Valencia. Now he’ll hope for an ElClásico strike and three points to get Barça’s season well and truly up and running. Karim Benzema and Vinícius Jr, though, are in great form too and have 18 goals between them already this campaign from just 11 total outings so far.

This is also the first ElClásico meeting between Ronald Koeman and Carlo Ancelotti, even if they’ve each coached in this fixture previously. The two tacticians have actually met in their coaching careers, back in 2003 when in charge at Ajax and AC Milan respectively, but they haven’t crossed paths since then. This Sunday they’ll look to win a tactical chess match and their decisions could be key to the result of this game and, ultimately, in the title race. It should be as thrilling as ElClásico always is, with just one goalless draw in their past 50 meetings. Expect goals!

Later, on Sunday evening, Real Betis vs Rayo Vallecano follows up ElClásico, an interesting encounter between two teams with offensive philosophies and currently separated by just one point in the table.

Then comes another huge game at 9pm CEST as Atlético de Madrid host Real Sociedad at the Wanda Metropolitano. The reigning champions will face a La Real side that has climbed to the top of the table with great play and great resilience, overcoming an early season injury crisis. If Real Sociedad can earn a positive result in the Spanish capital, they’ll have demonstrated that they are serious title challengers.

On Monday, there is one more match to round off the weekend as Getafe CF search for their first win of the year at home to RC Celta. This will mark Quique Sánchez Flores’ return to the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez, having re-taken the reins at his former club to take on the challenge of avoiding relegation.

Watch LaLiga Santander live this weekend on BeINSports

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