Wednesday 29 November 2017, 11:00

Puyol: I want to give back to society what football has given me

  • Barcelona legend Carles Puyol is giving back to the game

  • He's a key figure in the FIFA Legends programme, helping FIFA develop football

  • "It (football) made me the man I am today," he says in exclusive chat

The name Carles Puyol is inextricably linked to the city of Barcelona. Having arriving at the fabled La Masia youth system at the relatively tender age of 17, the shaggy-haired defender became a club icon – winning trophies galore and spending his entire senior career with Barça.

We met the FIFA Legend for an exclusive chat in the city after he had completed a run on the well-trodden Carretera de les Aigües, a trail that winds in and out of the hills above Barcelona for nearly ten kilometres. It was a path where Puyol came to put in the extra miles outside of regular training during his glorious playing career, and his commitment to go above and beyond post-retirement is already bearing fruit.

“I want to give back to society what football has given me,” Puyol says matter-of-factly. “It made me the man I am today.”

This is the ethos that makes Puyol a key figure in the FIFA Legends programme. The group of former top level players from across men’s and women’s football are global representatives of FIFA’s efforts to develop football, and help promote fair play, respect, equality, solidarity and peace. The 2010 FIFA World Cup™ winner is a perfect example of these qualities.

“Not everybody is fortunate enough to achieve what I was able to,” Puyol said. “It was undoubtedly my parents and my upbringing that taught me about being hard but fair, and about being humble about all that you have achieved.”

When pressed about the qualities that make a top level player, Puyol extolled the oft-repeated Barcelona mantra of being just one cog in a well-oiled machine.

“You have to give your all, that’s true,” Puyol said. “But that’s not enough. You have to be part of a team. There’s no room for egos – either on or off the pitch. You can only achieve great things as part of a team. Everyone in the team has to give everything, and also be in the form of their lives. Only then do you have a chance.”

Life as a FIFA Legend Puyol has quickly and naturally slotted into his new position as a role model for young footballers all over the world. When he talks, people listen.

He travelled to India ahead of the recent FIFA U-17 World Cup and as soon as he arrived, he was mobbed by fans. Wherever he went, crowds would follow. Ticket sales soon went through the roof too. All of a sudden, the U-17 World Cup received a boost in terms of its profile and status, as did the issue of football development in India.

It is not just India that has benefited, however, as he also travelled to Russia ahead of the FIFA Confederations Cup to draw attention to the volunteers programme and to publicly thank the many volunteers from Russia and beyond, to give them the recognition they so richly deserve. Later, when media reports suggested that the pitch at the new Krestovsky Stadium in Saint Petersburg would not be ready for the opening match, Puyol headed back to Russia.

He stepped out onto the pitch himself and, at a press conference later that day, insisted that the pitch was already ready for action – even in 15 minutes’ time, if need be, swiftly putting an end to all speculation once and for all. In December 2016, he also accompanied FIFA President Gianni Infantino to Brazil to attend the funeral service after the tragic Chapecoense plane crash in Colombia.

Giving something back As we sit and chat, young and old wave to Barcelona’s sporting icon from the pavement, and others ask him for a selfie. Puyol – of course – is only too happy to oblige with a smile.

In their eyes, he can not only see their joy and delight at their unexpected encounter with a living legend, but also their gratitude. Puyol made people happy with his performances. They will never forget that. But people here also appreciate all of the work he does for the greater good.

“At the end of the day, football is for footballers,” Puyol said when asked about his role in the FIFA Legends programme. “We have the experience and we’re willing to give it all to FIFA.”

If Carles Puyol, a man who won everything there is to win in the game, can give as much to the game after hanging up his boots as he did during his storied playing career, then the FIFA Legends will have the best possible example to follow.