By Trevor Haylett
Whoever comes out on top when Chelsea FC and FC Barcelona renew their UEFA Champions League rivalry at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday, it is a fair guess that most of the plaudits will be showered on the night's matchwinner, be it Samuel Eto'o, Damien Duff or any other of the attacking luminaries on show.
Two of a kind
But as to which player will experience the greatest sense of satisfaction there will be no need to look beyond John Terry or Carles Puyol. Two captains, two defensive pillars but also two players for whom success at their clubs resonates all the more vibrantly because they have each undertaken the long journey from the junior sides to the captain's armband.
Each will be crucial to his team's hopes of making it to the quarter-finals. Both commanding defenders in their own right, they have far more to offer than that. Two strong personalities, Puyol and Terry so often set the tone for how their side will perform while team-mates have come to expect an encouraging word here or a forceful suggestion there.
While Puyol has been an outstanding performer for Barcelona for a number of seasons – firstly as a full-back and now as a centre-half – Terry has really come to the fore this term. So much so that many observers are predicting the 24-year-old will become only the second English-born player to win the coveted Footballer of the Year trophy since 1994.
In the first leg of their first knockout round match at Camp Nou, Terry gave another emphatic statement of his quality and resistance. Fully aware that alongside him, Ricardo Carvalho was feeling his tentative way back into the fold having missed several outings with a broken toe, the Londoner knew he had to take on even more responsibility as Deco, Xavi Hernández and Demetrio Albertini launched waves of attacking intent designed to feed the goalscoring hunger of Eto'o and Ronaldinho.
Terry was simply outstanding. So much of his work involves the unglamourous side of the game, getting his body in the way to deflect goalbound shots or to cut out incisive passes. Sometimes a defender can get lucky in those situations and benefit from a striker's inability to shoot straight. But with Terry it happens so often it can only be the result of a sharp positional sense and awareness of where the ball will be directed.
Puyol, curly-haired and uncompromising, is cast from the same granite slab when it comes to hard-man defending. He is as unyielding as his opposite number in Chelsea blue, formidable in the tackle, determined to come out best in the air and diligent in the organisation of the defence around him. The 26-year-old also has the advantage of being a shade quicker over the ground. Where the Chelsea man scores over the Spaniard is in the goalscoring stakes – he has been on target seven times this season, including three in Europe, whereas Puyol has still to open his account.
Where Terry will cast covetous eyes at his opponent is in the matter of international football. At the moment he is seen by Sven-Göran Eriksson as the first-choice replacement should either Rio Ferdinand or Sol Campbell be injured, whereas Puyol is a regular starter for Spain. So impressive has been Terry's level of excellence and improvement over the last 12 months, however, that the time when he is considered indispensable to England's cause will surely come sooner rather than later.
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