The Barcelona team that dominated Spanish and European football under Pep Guardiola will go down in history as one of the best club sides to play the sport in the last 50 years.
Although the likes of Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta captured the imagination with their technique and exhilarating attacking play, a number of unsung heroes deserve to be brought into the light.
Two of the club’s longest serving players will make a Camp Nou exit this summer, with Víctor Valdés and Carles Puyol both to leave their boyhood club.
The goalkeeper’s decision has been well documented, with his reasoning that he wants a new challenge understandable.
The Catalan club has been scouting potential replacements, with Valdés leaving big gloves to fill.
Despite the pressure of getting a new number one, Puyol’s departure will be even more significant.
The versatile defender has captained the side will aplomb and is the epitome of the Barcelona way. Brought through the La Masia youth system, Puyol has been cultivated from an energetic right-back into one of the world’s top centre-halves.
He led the Barcelona team by example from the back, with his no-nonsense approach and sheer determination an inspiration to his illustrious team-mates.
For years outsiders have been urging the Blaugrana to invest in a new central defender, as the club looks stretched thin at the back – even with everyone fit.
However, Puyol more often than not has been the man to hold the back four together, with his commanding and authoritarian presence instilling confidence in those around him.
Because Barcelona always have so much of the ball and dominate possession in virtually every game they play, an emphasis on defence is diminished. Javier Mascherano has been transformed from a defensive midfielder into a centre-half, while Gerard Piqué has blossomed since a return to Spain.
However, the historic club do not have many substantial other options beyond this and as such investment is very much needed to fill the considerable gap that will be left after Puyol’s departure.
Injuries have taken their toll on the 35-year-old, who has only managed ten appearances for the side in all competitions this season. It is unclear whether he will pursue a playing role elsewhere, but surely the stalwart will have a role off the pitch to play at the Catalan club in the future.
Puyol is second to only Xavi Hernández as the player to step out for Barcelona on the most occasions, and his list of success will be the envy of most. Six La Liga titles and three Champions League crowns are just reward for a career of dedication to the Spanish club.
Puyol has amassed 100 caps at international level and can a European Championship and World Cup to his list of achievements also.
Although the inevitability of age has seen Puyol play less of an important role at club level, his departure will rob Barcelona of other important assets.
Beyond being a top-class defender, the veteran has the club’s principles and mentality running through his blood, is a popular and respected figure in the dressing room and above all is unequivocally loyal.
Although there are plenty of excellent central defenders in the European game that Barcelona can replace Puyol with this summer, finding someone with the strength of character of the great defender will be their biggest challenge ahead of next season.