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Official: Carles Puyol to Leave FC Barcelona At the End of the Season

After weeks of rumor, Carles Puyol set the record straight about what his plans are for the future. In a press conference, the Barcelona captain let everyone know he is packing his bags.

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"I'm not done today. There are three months left." Even when announcing his departure, Carles Puyol was still focused on the next game.

But Barcelona's captain has left it clear. He sat down and looked dead ahead. He put on a brave face, even though slight pauses in his speech belied his emotions simmering underneath. His expression barely changed, almost as if he knew he had to use all his focus on projecting one face.

He's leaving the club he joined nearly two decades ago. Those two decades were served under six club presidents.

He made his senior team debut around 15 years ago.  He's played under 12 managers at senior level.

He's been Barca's captain since the 2003-04 season. He's won 21 trophies at club level, including 3 Champions Leagues. He's also won the World Cup and European Championship with Spain.

Puyol had just scored another goal last weekend, turning in a Lionel Messi rebound into the net to extend a nervy 2-1 lead into a 3-1 advantage.

While his performance in that game against Almeria was praised, Puyol has been far from his peak form this season. He's been affected by injury after injury, and he's lost a yard of pace.

"After the last two knee injuries, it's been very difficult to maintain the level I need to stay here. More difficult than I thought, more than the doctors thought," Puyol said, still with the closest face to a deadpan he could muster.

Puyol was never the fastest but he more than made up for it with extraordinary anticipation and great technique.

"I don't have Romário's technique, [Marc] Overmars' pace or [Patrick] Kluivert's strength," Puyol once said. "But I work harder than the others. I'm like the student who is not as clever, but studies for his exams and does OK in the end."

Not only that, but his work ethic has been an inspiration to his teammates as the club's captain. He prides himself in training harder, which has an infectious effect on other players. But he wasn't shy about leading through words, either.

It's not unusual to see him yelling at his teammates to focus, even in the dying minutes of a 4-0 win. Gerard Pique, many years his junior and often his pair in the heart of defense, was frequently the target of Puyol's tongue-lashings. But Pique was the better player for it, and in fact, sometimes still seems to miss his mentor when fielded with someone else.

While Puyol's raw skills were not enough to make him elite, his legendary determination pushed him to the very top. By winning the Champions League, World Cup, and European Championships, Puyol has no one to envy when it comes to trophies.

His goal from a corner kick late into the 2010 World Cup semifinal against Germany remains perhaps his most memorable personal achievement.

At club level, some would argue that Puyol's most memorable goal may have been against Real Madrid in the Spanish Cup. With Barcelona trailing, Puyol scored, again with his head. Barca would go on to win 2-1.

But most would say it was in 2009 against Real Madrid. With Barcelona level 1-1, Puyol scored from a Xavi free kick. You guessed it, with his head. Barca would go on to win 6-2 and take the league.

But as much as Puyol will be remembered for his footballing exploits, to many, it will be his exemplary attitude that truly shows why he is so respected not just in Barcelona, but all over the world.

Perhaps no other player has ever better represented Barca's "mes que un club" (more than a club) slogan. Puyol, despite being a fierce, physical competitor, has never been accused (that I know of) of cheap or dirty tackles.

He once famously flew down the pitch to tell Dani Alves and Thiago Alcantara not to dance in celebration in an away matches when the other team, Rayo Vallecano, was losing 0-5.

His greatest gesture was probably when he let Eric Abidal, recently recovered from cancer, lift the 2011 Champions League trophy while wearing the captain's armband.

While Puyol doesn't know where he will play next season or, if indeed, he will play professional football anymore at all, I know that Puyol will continue to be loved by Cules everywhere and respected by other fans around the world.

Until then, Puyol is focused on leaving with 24 trophies, not 21.

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