Thanks to a combination of talent, humility, dedication and a ferocious work ethic, Carles Puyol has developed into a first-choice central defender for both Spain and Barcelona. What makes this feat even more notable is that the 32-year-old Catalan started out in the Barça youth system as a right winger, before a succession of coaches decided the best place for this fierce competitor was further back.
Indeed, his first-team debut under the Azulgranas' former coach Louis Van Gaal came as a right wing-back, with the Dutch strategist soon making full use of Puyol's versatility and indefatigable spirit by changing his position once more; this time to the heart of the defensive line.
Quick off the mark and good in the air, it is Puyol's commitment and sheer will to win that have earned him the respect of fans and the media alike. After winning two La Liga titles and the 2006 UEFA Champions League, he went on to captain his beloved Barcelona in an historic 2009, in which the Catalan club won no less than six titles: La Liga, the Copa del Rey, the Spanish SuperCup, the European SuperCup and the FIFA Club World Cup.
Puyol made his senior national-team debut in November 2000, shortly after playing his part in the Olympic squad which picked up silver at the Games in Sydney. Since then his name has been a constant in the Spain squad list, including appearances at two FIFA World Cups™ and two UEFA EUROs. Indeed, Puyol's tigerish defending was another key factor in La Roja's long-awaited success at the latter event in Austria and Switzerland last summer.
An adaptable performer, the Blaugrana stalwart is able to step into either full-back position as well as his favoured central role, while his powerful leap makes him an imposing aerial presence in either box - amply demonstrated by his headed goal in the 6-2 win at Real Madrid on 2 May.
Instantly recognisable thanks to his shaggy mop of curly hair, a look he insists will remain with him at least until he hangs up his boots, Puyol's strength of character and leadership skills will surely serve him well to that day and beyond.