Former Barcelona and Spain center back Carles Puyol is one of the greatest defenders to ever play. His powerful, graceful style of defending saw him captain La Blaugrana for ten years, winning six league titles and three European cups at the club. Puyol also won the 2010 FIFA World Cup with Spain. It was his header against Germany in the semifinal that sent Spain to the Final, where they defeated the Dutch in extra time.
Puyol has accomplished everything possible in the world game, and he has certainly had a lasting impact. Barcelona still haven’t found Gerard Pique a consistent center back partner since Puyol’s decline and retirement. His leadership, versatility, and experience make him exceptionally desirable for any club.
One club linked to the Spaniard is New York City FC. Jason Kreis has already used two of his three designated player spots, on forward David Villa and midfielder Frank Lampard. With one spot remaining, many think that Kreis will turn to defense to fill it.
Signing Puyol isn’t as much of a no-brainer as some may believe. There are some significant concerns with Puyol’s form and health going into his return to football. At 36 years old, Puyol may not be able to keep up with some of the attackers in the MLS. While his strength and intelligence in the box will make him near unbeatable in one-on-one situations, Puyol could actually be a liability for NYCFC on counter-attacks and set pieces.
While Puyol is strong in the air, his lack of speed and declining endurance could make it difficult for him to get back on defense after a set piece. Additionally, if Puyol is caught in possession too high up the field, he may not be able to retreat in time. Yes, Puyol played against the best footballers in the world for over a decade, but age trumps all; at 36 years of age, Puyol simply isn’t quick enough for some of the speedy young forwards in the MLS. He also has an extensive injury history, and hasn’t seen significant playing time in quite a while. The MLS would be a terribly difficult transition for Puyol.
Another reason why Puyol would be a bad signing? Continuity. In their first four games, NYCFC have only conceded twice goals- once to Orlando and once to Kansas City. A large part of their early defensive success has been continuity. Left back Jeb Brovsky and center backs Jason Hernandez and Chris Wingert have started every game. The only variable has been right back, where Josh Williams has had injuries and Shay Facey picked up a red card.
In particular, the combination of Hernandez and Wingert has been stout. The two haven’t conceded from open play when paired at center back (Kaka’s goal was off a set piece, and Kansas City’s goal came with Wingert at right back and Kwame Watson-Siriboe at center back). Inserting Puyol into the center could disrupt a very solid center back pairing. Any football fan knows that one of the most fundamental steps towards success is good partnership and communication between center backs.
Puyol also will cost a boatload of money. Despite his lack of playing time, Puyol is one of the most iconic defenders in world football, and has unrivaled leadership skills and intangibles. Those kind of factors scream big money, and Puyol’s drawbacks may not make the money a worthwhile investment.
So is Puyol the right choice for the third defensive player spot? We’ll have to wait and see if the club even considers the Spaniard, but right now, the inclination is towards no. Puyol’s legs may not be compatible with the speed of the modern MLS game, and his insertion into the starting XI could disrupt the continuity that has NYCFC among the league leaders for fewest goals conceded.