BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Barcelona defender Carles Puyol has decided to leave the club at the end of the season, preferring to take some time off after several injury-filled seasons and putting his football future in doubt.
The 35-year-old Puyol has spent his entire career with Barcelona, debuting in 1999. But he has made only 12 appearances this season after returning from a long-term knee injury in October.
Puyol has been an essential figure in Barcelona's and Spain's recent achievements, including helping Spain win the 2010 World Cup and leading Barcelona to three Champions League titles.
Puyol said Barcelona has agreed to rescind his contract at the end of the season despite two years remaining on his deal.
"The recovery from my knee injury was more difficult than expected. I cannot perform anymore at the level I'd want," Puyol said Tuesday. "When the season ends I need to rest and then we will see. I've got three months left and I'm going to give my all for Barca, but I don't know what I'll do at the end of the season."
Puyol did not take questions Tuesday as teammates Gerard Pique, Cristian Tello and Jose Manuel Pinto, and former teammate Ivan de la Pena watched.
Puyol is a homegrown success story for the Catalan club, coming through the La Masia youth program like teammates Xavi Hernandez, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta.
He was nicknamed "Tarzan" for his scraggly locks which shielded his face and intimidated opponents despite his small stature. His energetic and physical style of play fit perfectly with his leadership qualities, earning him the captain's armband at Barcelona until recent injury spells.
Puyol, who was raised in the Catalan town of Pobla de Segur, trails only Xavi in appearances made for the club. He scored his first goal of the season in Sunday's 4-1 win over Almeria.
Puyol won his first trophy with the club in the 2004-05 season — the first of six league titles. He also won the Club World Cup, Copa del Rey, Spanish Super Cup and European Super Cup to go along with Champions League titles in 2006, '09, and '11.
At the World Cup in South Africa, Puyol headed in the winning goal in the 1-0 semifinal victory over Germany.
"He's a reference for every player and a leader on the field of play," Spain coach Vicente del Bosque said.