Goal.com 50: Carles Puyol (22)

At No.22 in the Goal.com 50 is Barcelona's iconic captain, Carles Puyol...

 23. Felipe Melo (Fiorentina & Brazil)

22. CARLES PUYOL (Barcelona & Spain)

21. Diego (Werder Bremen/Juventus & Brazil)

Lest we forget, Barcelona started the season in very poor fashion indeed. The word 'crisis', and various synonyms, predictably started doing the rounds rather rapidly.

It was, of course, a false dawn. As soon as Barca got into their stride, they blew opponents away with regularity.

Due to their attacking exuberance, it is easy to forget that Barca boasted one of the best defences on the domestic and European fronts during the last campaign. Now, it must be stressed that Carles Puyol played only 28 league games, the least in his last five seasons at the club. Yet, with Puyol in full flow on the pitch, his team-mates could not help but rise to another level, and never was this more evident than in the two Clasicos.

The first clash between Barca and their eternal rivals Real Madrid came at the worst possible time for Los Merengues. They had just sacked Bernd Schuster, who had declared that they had no chance of winning at the Camp Nou, and had thrown Juande Ramos into the hot seat, fresh off a disastrous spell at Tottenham Hotspur. Meanwhile, Barca had just beaten Sevilla and Valencia 3-0 and 4-0 respectively. Surely the home side would win, and win handsomely?

Eighty-three minutes in, however, and it looked like being a damp squib from a Barcelona perspective. Samuel Eto'o had missed a penalty, and Real Madrid suddenly looked like a well-organised, determined unit who were not going to let their rivals score. Then Barca won a corner.

It is easy to say these things in hindsight, of course, but watching Puyol as he strode towards the box in preparation for the corner was to see a man who had decided to take it upon himself to change things once and for all. Sure enough, the captain rose to meet the corner, and his header bounced in off Samuel Eto'o's knee, crushing Madrid's spirits.

By the time the second Clasico rolled around, Barca were widely accepted to be the best footballing side on the planet. Still, they were yet to actually win anything. Meanwhile, Real Madrid were on a record winning run, and had somehow kept the gap at the top to four points.

Puyol, meanwhile, went into the game after picking up a yellow card minutes after coming on as a substitute in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final, ruling him out for the second leg. Then, 13 minutes into the game, some shocking marking from the Blaugrana allowed Gonzalo Higuain to head his side ahead.

Thierry Henry equalised soon after, and then, on 20 minutes, Barca won a free kick that was, to all intents and purposes, a virtual corner. Up strode Puyol. Seconds later, he had gone one better than in the first Clasico, powering a header past Iker Casillas to give his side the lead and open the floodgates. Barcelona ended up thrashing Real Madrid 6-2.

Captain Clasico | Puyol celebrates Madrid goal

And of course, Puyol was back for the Champions League, where he played at right-back as part of a makeshift Barca defence. He was up against Wayne Rooney for most of the match, but in reality, Rooney was up against him. Puyol showed another string to his bow in Rome, bombarding down the right flank with intent and nullifying Rooney's involvement completely.

The enduring images from Puyol's season are him repeatedly holding aloft Barca's three trophies, and that says it all. As important as his various footballing contributions were throughout the season, it is his role as a captain of the troops during this historic campaign, especially coming as it did after such a poor previous season, for which he deserves the most credit.

2008-09 HONOURS

La Liga 2008-09
Copa Del Rey 2008-09
UEFA Champions League 2008-09

Arjun Miglani, Goal.com

 23. Felipe Melo (Fiorentina & Brazil)

22. CARLES PUYOL (Barcelona & Spain)

21. Diego (Werder Bremen/Juventus & Brazil)