The next comparison between Rijkaard and Guardiola is of the captains and the centre-backs.
That can only mean one thing, Puyol ‘06 up against the present day King Carles.
This match-up is a lot closer than the previous two. I’ll start off by saying how Puyol has reclaimed his standing as a world-class centre-back and even evolved under Guardiola’s guidance. During the game against Malaga, one commentator remarked that Puyol’s technique has improved markedly in the couple of years since Pep took charge.
He observed that Puyol’s passing is more accurate, his first touch a lot less sloppy and his general confidence on the ball has increased.
One has to consider Puyi’s age when Guardiola first took over the reins at FC Barcelona, that itself is an extraordinary achievement by Pep. I guess it shows that it is possible to teach an old dog new tricks.
Puyol’s reading of the game has also improved. He more than compensates his loss of pace with his ability to read the game as good as anyone. It certainly helped him put in some majestic performances, like last campaign’s El Clasico, where he was simply impeccable.
However, in 2006 Puyol was much quicker, as you would expect from a younger player. This enabled him to catch up with and mark quicker or more athletic players.
One thing that could be held against Puyol ‘06 is the notable absence of clean sheets. Then again, I don’t think anyone can blame him since Rijkaard’s Barca were better known for their ultra-attacking philosophy than defensive prowess.
Nevertheless, a host of other qualities have remained the same over the years; for instance his world-class marking ability, stamina, slide tackles and work rate. But one physical attribute must’ve improved over Guardiola, his arm strength.
After all, lifting all those trophies must’ve been hard work!
Winner: Present day Puyol (just)