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Barcelona club captain Carles Puyol to leave Camp Nou

updated 1:59 PM EST, Tue March 4, 2014
Gerard Pique (left) claps Carles Puyol off as the club captain announces an end to his time at Barcelona.
Gerard Pique (left) claps Carles Puyol off as the club captain announces an end to his time at Barcelona.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Club captain Puyol to leave Barcelona at end of the season
  • 35-year-old joined Barca's youth team in 1995
  • Defender does not indicate whether he will play elsewhere
  • Blames chronic knee injuries for his early departure from club

(CNN) -- Is it the end of an era for a side recognized as one of the best in football history?

Just four players made the squads for all three of Barcelona's Champions League successes of 2006, 2009 and 2011 -- and now the first is set to leave in the shape of club captain Carles Puyol.

On Tuesday, the all-action defender -- who turns 36 next month -- announced that he will sever ties at the end of the current season.

This leaves midfielders Xavi, Andres Iniesta and goalkeeper Victor Valdes -- the only one of the quartet to play every minute of all three finals -- as the last bastions of those era-defining teams.

"After two very serious operations, I'm finding it very hard to get back to the level I need to be at to stay here," he told a news conference at Barca's training ground.

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"Much more than I thought and much more than the surgeons told me. That's why I have made this decision."

Read: Knee injury forces Puyol out of Euro 2012

Puyol's contract had been set to expire in 2016 but it will now terminate two years early because of the persistent knee trouble the veteran has experienced in recent years.

Having spent seven months out of the game before returning last October, the defender has managed just five league games this season.

Puyol, who captained Barca to victory in the 2006 and 2009 Champions League finals, has made 593 appearances for Barcelona, more than any outfield player save for Xavi's 709.

Xavi, who skippered the side in the 2011 after Puyol was forced to start the game on the bench because of injury, celebrated his 34th birthday in January, although time would be appear to be on the sides of Valdes, 32, and Iniesta, 29.

Iniesta, Xavi, Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho may have lit up Barcelona's play with their sumptuous skills but it's questionable whether they embodied the Barca side during their years of dominance quite like Puyol.

Defying his poodle-style haircut, the defender's displays were typified by his 'thou-shalt-not-pass' spirit as he made up for his relatively short stature for a center back (standing 5ft 10 inches) with unbridled commitment.

Thank you captain for everything you've taught me. Good luck.
Cesc Fabregas on Twitter

Having made his debut against Valladolid in October 1999 under coach Louis van Gaal, Puyol spent the first five seasons of his Barca career without winning any silverware.

So what does it say about the versatile defender, who moved to the center after starting out on the right, that this all changed in the very season he was appointed club captain?

On May 14 2005, Barcelona drew 1-1 at Levante to win La Liga for the first time since 1999 -- sparking an avalanche of trophies.

Five more league titles would follow in addition to two Spanish Cups, two UEFA Super Cups, two FIFA Club World Cups and the Champions League titles.

Success also followed at international level where Puyol became part of an historic Spain side that ended a 44-year wait for a major trophy when clinching the 2008 European Championship, before then lifting the World Cup for the first time in 2010 -- with Puyol's header having knocked out a dangerous Germany in the semifinals.

Read: Puyol extends Barcelona contract to 2016

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As he addressed the media on Tuesday, with another club legend -- Gerard Pique -- a notable attendee, Puyol explained that he will attempt to finish his Barcelona career with the attitude that has been his hallmark.

"There are three months of the season left and anyone that knows me will know that I won't give up and I'll keep fighting to the end to try to improve and help the team to achieve its objectives this season," he was quoted as saying by Barcelona's own website.

"I don't know what I'll do after June 30, but what I am sure of is that when the season ends I'm going to need to get some rest. I haven't stopped for four years because of injuries. After that, we'll see what happens."

Puyol joined Barcelona's youth team in 1995 and has never played for any other club.

His onfield successes aside, the Spaniard will also be remembered for his gracious gesture during the 2011 Champions League final at Wembley.

Despite appearing as a late substitute in the 3-1 win over Manchester United, the club captain passed up the opportunity to lift the trophy and instead handed the honor to Eric Abidal, who had had surgery to remove a liver tumor just two months earlier.

Read: Barcelona answer Neymar charges by paying tax

That may well be among the many questions thrown his way at the end of the season, when Puyol says he will be delighted to reflect on his two decades at one of football's most distinguished clubs.

"I'd like to give a press conference at the end of the season and say farewell to all the people that have accompanied me though these 19 years," he said.

"Whoever wants to, whoever can -- presidents, directors, coaches, teammates, people from the club, reporters, friends, relatives -- that day I'll answer whatever questions they want.

"Thank you very much and see you soon!"

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