Goal.com's countdown to the greatest player of 2008 continues with FC Barcelona's inspirational captain Carles Puyol. The Catalan defender stands for everything that the Blaugrana do and has now written his name in the international history books too with Spain...50 - Ashley Young - Aston Villa, Premier League - Score: 1109
49 - Javier Zanetti - Internazionale, Serie A - Score: 1104
48 - Daniel Guiza - Fenerbahçe, Super Lig - Score: 1089
47 - Juninho Pernambucano - Olympique Lyonnais, Ligue 1 - Score: 1083
46 - Juan Román Riquelme - Boca Juniors, Argentine Apertura - Score: 1077
45 - Luca Toni - FC Bayern, Bundesliga - Score: 1064
44 - David Silva - Valencia, Primera Division - Score: 1060
42 (T) - Thierry Henry - Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1040
42 (T) - Daniel Alves - Sevilla, Primera Division / Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1040
41 - Antonio Cassano - Sampdoria, Serie A - Score: 1028
40 - Klaas-Jan Huntelaar - Ajax Amsterdam, Eredivisie / Real Madrid, Primera Division - Score: 1027
39 - Ricardo Carvalho - Chelsea, Premier Division - Score: 1025
38 - Samuel Eto'o - Barcelona, Primera Division - Score: 1017
37 - Philipp Lahm - FC Bayern, Bundesliga - Score: 1009
36 - Javier Mascherano - Liverpool, Premier League - Score: 1008
35 - Julio Cesar - Internazionale, Serie A - Score 1000
34 - Robinho - Real Madrid, Primera Division / Manchester City, Premier League - Score: 970
33 - Diego - Werder Bremen, Bundesliga - Score: 955
32 - Carles Puyol - FC Barcelona, La Primera División - Score: 915
If there is one player in the current FC Barcelona squad that embodies everything that the Catalan club wants to aspire to and dreams that it is then it is club captain Carles Puyol. Known as El Tiburón (the Shark) to television viewers and as Tarzan to everyone at the Camp Nou because of his infamous long hair, the 30-year-old's performances over the past 12 months have only seen his reputation grow at both domestic and international level.
Puyol embodies the drive, desire and commitment that the Barça fans demand and the fact that he is one of them makes him even more of an idol in the stands at the club where he has spent his entire career. Frank Rijkaard's last season in charge at Barça could have seen very few of their players make the top 50 list, but with several participating in Spain's Euro 2008 triumph and the team's incredible start to the current campaign the Catalan outfit have a number of stars included.
Give that under both their previous coach and Pep Guardiola the Barcelona team rely on attack to win games while always running the risk of being caught on the break, Puyol's ability to marshal the back line and be a central figure is testament to just how good he is. His aerial ability, strength in the tackle and speed across the pitch makes him one of, not only Barça's, but also the world's best central defenders.
The year began with Puyol being linked with a move away from Camp Nou if a large enough bid was lodged and Juande Ramos was said to want him at Tottenham Hotspur. Not only did that suggestion appear daft at the time, but even links to Manchester United were laughable as the Lleida-born star's commitment to Barça will more than likely see him remain at the club for his entire career.
In a season when so many reasons for failure were looked into, Puyol's name was never brought up as the highly-paid imports were all accused at some point of not pulling their weight. Despite missing a month after picking up a knock in February, he was still able to make 46 appearances and many believe that things would have been a lot worse if he had been out for longer as Real Madrid went on to win the title and leave Barça facing the prospect of rebuilding.
A struggling club side, Puyol still would have enjoyed his summer sojourn to Austria and Switzerland with Spain even if the team had not gone on to record their greatest ever triumph. So surprised by the team's incredible displays in the European Championships that only the most ardent Catalan separatist would have begrudged Puyol his moment in the limelight wearing the colours that leave many in north east of the Iberian Peninsula usually uninspired.
Puyol has had his critics throughout his career with many of those doubting whether he could perform at another club or in another league, but his performances at Euro 2008 showed that he can play at the highest level as he was named in the tournament's best eleven and was included in the FIFPro team of the year.
This same cynics that like to find fault where very little lies will have had to look even harder this season too, with Puyol being the leader of a Barcelona defence that has conceded just ten league goals in their opening 16 matches, while letting in five in the first five Champions League group games before letting in three in their last match against Shakhtar when Puyol did not play.
By playing his 400th game for the club in September, Puyol has already written his name into the Blaugrana's history books and by being a part of the Spain side that won Euro 2008 he will be forever remembered at international level in a year when he has seen his beloved club lurch from trouble and strife to become favourites for every competition in which they are playing and without him at the heart it is doubtful any of it would have been possible.
European Championships winner 2008
UEFA Euro 2008 Team of the Tournament
FIFPro World XI
Lucas Brown, Goal.com