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Carles Puyol wasn't cut out to be a Barcelona player. He didn't join the club's youth academy until he was 17 and the coaches struggled to find his best position. In 1998 he almost signed for Malaga, but refused to give up on his dream.
Unlike many of his contemporaries, it wasn't his technical ability that made him stand out, it was his big mop of hair and ram-raiding tackles. But he made it. In fact, he didn't just make it, he became a club legend.
593 games. 19 goals. Three Champions League titles. Six La Liga titles. Two Copa del Rey triumphs. Eight Spanish Super Cup wins. Two World Club Cups. Three European Super Cups and a partridge in a pear tree. On October 2nd 1999 Puyol made his Barcelona debut during a 2-0 win Real Valladolid in La Liga. Twenty years later SPORTbible looks back on 10 of his most iconic moments.
1. Letting Eric Abidal lift the Champions League trophy...
Barcelona have just wiped the floor with Manchester United in the 2011 Champions League final, winning 3-1 to claim Europe's ultimate prize for the fourth time. It's widely regarded as one of the greatest performances of all-time from what many believe is the greatest team of all-time. This was a crowning moment for a 33-year-old Puyol who knew his career was coming to an end.
But rather than bask in his moment of glory he handed the captain's armband to teammate Eric Abidal and invited him to lift Ol' Big Ears. The Frenchman played in the final having recovered from surgery to remove a tumour in his liver. "I can't explain the emotions I have," said Abidal. "It's spectacular. I'm so thankful for the gesture."
We're not crying, you're crying.
2. ...And stopping Alex Song from lifting the La Liga trophy
For all his niceties, Puyol also knew when to put a wally in his place. Back in 2013 when Barcelona were celebrating their 22nd La Liga title our curly-haired hero was about to hand the trophy over to Abidal and Tito Vilanova, who had both overcome serious illness that year.
Oblivious to the impending gesture, bench-warmer Alex Song steps forward ready to lift the silverware aloft and kick off the festivities.
Using his expert defensive skills Puyol shields the trophy from the clueless Song and extends his hand to Abidal. Good save Carles. And Song? In the words of Del Boy, what a plonker.
3. Chest save in Champions League match
If ever there was a moment that encapsulated why Puyol was called The Wall this was it. On October 23rd, 2002, Barcelona are playing Lokomotiv Moscow in the Champions League at the Camp Nou.
The score is goalless when, in the 65th minute, Moscow's Nigerian forward James Obiorah bursts through on goal and rounds goalkeeper Roberto Bonano.
The only thing standing between Obiorah and glory is Barcelona's barrel-chested beast, Puyol. As the striker gallops towards goal, the Catalan sentry stops retreating and makes a final stand, forcing Obiorah to shoot when he reaches the edge of the box.
Using the Barcelona badge as a shield, Puyol repels the shot with this chest and falls back like he's taken a bullet, keeping the scores level. Cue epic orchestral war music. Frank de Boer scored 10 minutes later to win the game for the home side.
4. Clears Roberto Carlos Thunderbastard Off The Line With His Face
Salt on an ulcer, stubbing your toe and watching an episode of Gemma Collins: Diva Forever are amongst the most painful experiences a human being can suffer. But you'd opt for all of the above over a Roberto Carlos thunderbastard to the chops (or the knackers).
But being the maniac that he is, Puyol willingly put his face in the way of a goalbound shot from Mr Thunder Thighs himself. It's the 2003/2004 season and Barcelona are winning El Clasico 2-1 at the Santiago Bernabeu when Victor Valdes makes a double-save from Zinedine Zidane and Raul only to see the loose ball fall to Carlos and his murderous left-foot.
Carlos whacks the ball at the open goal, only for Puyol to make a diving block with his face. Thankfully Barcelona's lead and Puyol's face both stayed intact.
5. Stops Dani Alves And Thiago From Celebrating Goal In 7-0 Win
There's a time and place for having a laugh and a frolic and celebrating the demolition of Rayo Vallecano is not one of them.
After Thiago scores the fifth in Barcelona's seven-goal rout of Los Franjirrojos in 2012 he runs over to Dani Alves to start a choreographed dance celebration.
Given Rayo were fighting relegation, Real Madrid had won La Liga, Barcelona had exited the Champions League and Pep Guardiola had just announced his departure, their celebrations were a little ill-timed.
Unimpressed Puyol broke up their routine and sent them back to the centre circle. Well-played Carles!
6. Stops Pique Handing Referee A Lighter
During a typically tense El Clasico at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2013, Barcelona and Real Madrid are contesting a Copa del Rey semi-final when Gerard Pique is hit by lighter thrown at him by the Madrid fans.
The Spain defender clutches his elbow as if he's been struck by something a lot larger than a plastic lighter. Grimacing, he makes his way over to the referee, ready to complain.
Just as he cut out through balls, Puyol senses the danger and intercepts Pique's attempted whinge, grabs the lighter and throws it off the pitch, encouraging his teammate to focus on the impending corner. There's no place for play-acting in Puyol's world.
7. Stops Ronaldinho Getting Into A Fight
Usually, a gust of wind is enough to send the modern-day footballer crashing to the floor, holding their face, rolling around like they've been cracked by Anthony Joshua.
So, in 2005, it was a nice surprise in to see Barcelona's Captain Caveman brush off a slap across the chops from Mallorca defender Sergio Ballesteros.
Ronaldinho wasn't willing to be so tolerant. Incensed, he charges over to take retribution. But instead of letting Ballesteros get his just deserts, Puyol pushes the Brazilian superstar away and protects his attacker to help extinguish the situation. Now that's what we call sportsmanship.
8. Invites Ronaldinho To Lift Trophy
Puyol was a loyal servant of the Barcelona cause. A home-town hero, adored by teammates and fans. His commitment could never be questioned.
But his integrity came first and when former teammate Ronaldinho returned to the Nou Camp with AC Milan for the Joan Gamper Trophy in 2010, he put rivalries aside and invited the Brazilian to join him in Barcelona's team photo. After the Spanish wide won the match on penalties, Puyol posed with the trophy and fun-loving 'Dinho. Lovely touch.
9. Bulldozing header during Barcelona's 6-2 win over Real Madrid
With five games to go in the 2009 La Liga title race Barcelona travelled to the Santiago Bernabeu with a four-point lead over their eternal rivals. Victory for Pep's team would all but secure the title.
A win for Real Madrid would give them the momentum in the run-in. The stakes were high. In the 20th minute, with the score 1-1, Barcelona win a free-kick in the left channel. Xavi clips in an inviting cross and Puyol's head connects with the ball like a heavyweight champion walloping a punching machine.
Iker Casillas is helpless, Barcelona lead 2-1 and Puyol tears off his captain's armband - which bears the colours of the 'Senyera' (Catalan flag) - and starts kissing it much to the irritation of the home fans. Let's 'ave it!
10. Winning Six Trophies in One Season
There have been many great Barcelona sides, but the vintage of 2009 are something special. By the end of the 2008/2009 season they had won La Liga, the Copa Del Rey and the Champions League. They started the 2009-10 campaign by winning the Supercopa de Espana and the UEFA Super Cup, setting up a huge showdown with Argentinian side Estudiantes in the final of the World Club Cup on December 19 in Abu Dhabi.
Puyol was actually beaten by a cross that led to Estudiantes scoring the opening goal, but Barcelona came back to win 2-1 in extra-time and the skipper ended the year lifting a record-breaking sixth trophy. Guardiola cried. History was made. Puyol became an icon.
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