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Goal.com's countdown continues with the cultured defender, who held together Barcelona's back line in the extended absence of Carles Puyol

Welcome to the Goal.com 50! In this special series, Goal.com editors worldwide vote for the top 50 players of 2010-11. We count down to the announcement of the winner on August 22 with profiles of each and every player who made it into the top 50...

It's difficult when assessing the short career of Gerard Pique not to become engrossed and indeed envious of the achievements of the confident Catalan; three La Ligas. Two towering performances in Champions League finals against his former club, Manchester United. World Cup glory. And, well, Shakira. At 24 years of age, he has already surmounted the modern game, and most intriguing is the room for development in his performances, and indeed his propensity to drive for further success.

"Gerard Pique has an incredible career ahead of him. He is a champion with Spain & Barcelona. It has been an amazing progression."

- Franz Beckenbauer

The 2010-11 campaign was, in many ways, a true rite of passage for the strapping stopper; having spent much of his time since returning to Spain in 2008 shoulder-to-shoulder with Carles Puyol both domestically and internationally, an injury-plagued second half of the season for the club captain left Pique partnered with temporary replacements, forcing him to marshal the defence almost single-handedly.

MOMENT OF THE SEASON

 LA LIGA:
VILLARREAL 0-1 BARCELONA
In a pivotal match in the title run-in, Pique helped to weather the storm from the home side, before finishing superbly from inside the area to hand the Catalan giants a priceless three points.
Critics of Pique have suggested that his tendency to suffer periods of inattentiveness often relied on the composure of Puyol in order to provide the experienced head in situations of difficulty. With Puyol's absence creating a massive chasm in Barca's back line, and with a distinct lack of alternatives, Pique had to prove his mental fortitude if success was to follow. The fact that his team ended the season with La Liga and the Champions League in their possession is testament to the fact that he stepped up in impressive fashion.

Appearing alongside pseudo-defenders Sergio Busquets or Javier Mascherano, both of whom manfully proved their versatility, Pique became the organiser, and rose to challenges that would test even the most seasoned of professionals.

The unprecedented, chaotic gauntlet of Clasicos were not for the faint of heart, but Real Madrid, Copa del Rey triumph aside, were left disappointed by the immovable object in Spain, and Pique's continuous improvement played a significant role in holding off Jose Mourinho's resolute opposition.

In the Champions League, too, his role as the consummate ball-playing defender gave further weight to the flattering 'Piquebauer' moniker that he had been bestowed with earlier in his career. In a team where even the goalkeeper, Victor Valdes, must be extremely proficient on the ball, Pique has added steel to the swashbuckle, becoming a more rounded player in the process.

"Appearing alongside pseudo-defenders Busquets or Mascherano, Pique became the organiser, and rose to challenges that would test even the most seasoned of professionals."

What next for a player who has already won it all? The motivation to continue to aspire to the standards that he and his team-mates have set - the gold standard of our times. And with another mammoth season just around the corner, the desire shows no signs of dissipating - for Barca, for Spain, and for Pique, the determination to attain perfection remains as strong as ever.

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