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.”