[ ARTICLE ] Clasico could end an era for Barça legends
An epoch is defined every few months. As one Barcelona player puts it: “Madrid-Barça is the game of the century every time, even though there are four a year.” On Sunday night the biggest rivals in world sport will meet for the 18th time in the past three-and-a-half years and in less than a month, they will meet in the final of the Copa del Rey, too. Yet there’s still something about the clasico that feels definitive, at least until the next time. Like the frontier between one age and the next. Games may be forgotten, and in truth many are, but they can feel like they’re forever: few matches are treated as if they close cycles and end eras quite like this one. This Sunday, that may actually be true. This really could be the end of an era. Not because this is a huge opportunity for Real Madrid to claim a seven-point lead at the top of the table, which would make it almost impossible for Barcelona to catch them — after all, Jose Mourinho claimed to have ended Barcelona’s hegemony by winning the league only to see it taken back again. Rather, because if the title does slip away (and Madrid are surely favourites), for some of the most emblematic players in Barcelona’s history, it will slip away for the last time. On Sunday afternoon, Carles Puyol, Xavi Hernandez and Víctor Valdes could well play their last ever game at the Santiago Bernabéu. Puyol is 35 and will be 36 next month. Xavi is 34 and Valdés is 32. At the end of the season Valdes will depart and so too will Puyol. Both have already announced their decisions to leave.
"It was great to see Yaya. He brought seven mates on to the team bus and we were there for two hours taking photos, as if he was still in the team. It can be sad when people move on and you know you won’t see them tomorrow after everything you shared, but you get used to it. You stay in touch too: this Christmas I saw Thierry Henry in New York."
"It might not look like it but I’m quite shy. I’m an introvert. That’s the way I am, how I feel. I know my introverted nature has failed me with certain aspects of what this profession demands, like public events, media commitments, galas and so on, but you can’t help the way you are."
"Our philosophy is to have the ball so the opposition don’t shoot often but I can assure you it’s not easy. At times, you’re in bits. Mentally it’s exhausting. I’ve finished games where I’ve hardly touched the ball yet I’ve got to the dressing room dead. You think: why? Because psychologically you’re completely immersed and that can be more tiring than physical exertion."
"I went into that game knowing the following day I wouldn’t be Barcelona’s goalkeeper. The criticism had rained down. No one said anything but intuition told me I was leaving. And rather than feeling under pressure, I felt liberated. I just had this idea: sal y disfruta, go out there and enjoy it, because I knew it was my last. But destiny had other ideas, I played well and everything was reconsidered."