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Puyol: I have lived the dream at Barcelona

The 36-year-old will retire at the end of the season after a long-standing knee injury finally took its toll on the combative centre-half.

Puyol is a one-club man who won six Liga titles and three UEFA Champions League crowns, earning himself a reputation as one of the game's true greats along the way.

Addressing a farewell event held in his honour at Camp Nou on Thursday, Puyol recalled playing football with his brother as a child when such lofty achievements seemed mere fantasy.

"I would never have thought then that I would have this great career," he said.

"I've lived the dream of so many young kids, doing what I most enjoy in life, playing football and training. I've won lots of titles but the most important thing is the human warmth and feeling I take from this club. I came here as a boy and I'm leaving with a family who I'm really proud of."

Team-mates past and present were among the huge crowd gathered to bid a fond farewell to the Spaniard, who has 100 caps to his name and boasts FIFA World Cup and UEFA European Championship winners medals.

Puyol underlined his desire to be remembered as a wholehearted and committed player, while highlighting the sheer joy of having been able to play the sport he loves at the highest level.

"The one thing I have very clear is that I gave my absolute all for Barcelona and for football and I would like to be remembered as a player who did just that – who gave everything," he said.

"For 19 years I have been able to do what I love. I've won many trophies but what will remain with me is the human side of this club."

He also offered his thanks to the fans and paid tribute to former coach Tito Vilanova, who died last month.

Reflecting on his remarkable career, Puyol chose Eric Abidal lifting the Champions League trophy in 2011 as his most memorable moment.

Abidal, who missed the 2009 final through suspension, had recently undergone surgery to remove a tumour in his liver and was handed the captain's armband for the 3-1 win over Manchester United at Wembley.

"It's very difficult to pick a special moment – but if I had to choose one I'd say when Abidal lifted the Champions League trophy due to everything that it implied," Puyol explained.

"He gave us the example of fighting, he didn't give up and he was with the team and he could live a very special moment, a moment he deserved most than anyone."

Barca can win a 23rd top-flight crown with victory over Atletico Madrid on Saturday and Puyol has faith that his side will deliver, though he will play no part.

"I don't think I will need to give a speech to the squad before the match," he said. "It's a 'final' we have to win and with our supporters on our side, I am sure we will do it."

President Josep Bartomeu described Puyol as "the best captain in the history of the club", while Barca stalwart Xavi added: "Thank you for everything you have given us, for your courage, your bravery, your sacrifices."