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Meet football's answer to Tintin: Barcelona and PSG's comic hero

By Tom McGowan, CNN
April 9, 2013 -- Updated 1441 GMT (2241 HKT)
The first edition of Eric Castel was published in 1979 and focused on the Barcelona player meeting a group of young fans known as the "Pablitos". The second edition, entitled "Retur-Match" or "Second-Leg" was released later the same year.
The first edition of Eric Castel was published in 1979 and focused on the Barcelona player meeting a group of young fans known as the "Pablitos". The second edition, entitled "Retur-Match" or "Second-Leg" was released later the same year.
HIDE CAPTION
A star is born
Au revoir
Before...
After
Black and white...
Color
Barca brilliance
Allez Castel
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Eric Castel was a comic book hero who starred for Barcelona and PSG
  • Castel was first seen in 1973 in the form of German player Max Falk
  • Comic book hero graced 15 editions, running from 1979 to 1992
  • Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain play each other in Champions League this week

(CNN) -- Meet football's answer to Tintin.

He was the silver-haired striker whose goals propelled Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain to European glory.

Eric Castel was a hero to boys across the continent, his exploits at the Camp Nou and the Parc des Princes cementing his status as a football and comic book icon.

And ahead of Wednesday's European Champions League quarterfinal second leg, memories of a winger who brought joy to fans of both teams will be thrust sharply into focus.

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Former Barcelona president Joan Laporta called Castel the club's greatest ever signing, while current Barca playmaker Xavi is among his legion of loyal fans.

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Castel's career flowed through the pencil of Raymond Reding, whose vibrant illustrations captivated a generation of youngsters.

The French star was known by different names across Europe -- Ronnie Hansen in the Netherlands, Kai Falke in Germany -- but he was always brought to life by the hand of Reding, who died in April 1999.

Reding, while also working on other make-believe sporting heroes, spent time working on Belgium's favorite young adventurer Tintin during the 1950s.

"With Francoise Hugues, Raymond Reding created this character in 1973 with a football player named Max Falk," football agent and Castel enthusiast Olivier Jouanneaux told CNN.

"He played in a company football team, not as a professional, in Dusseldorf, Germany.

"The Dutch comic magazine Zack ordered Reding to create a comic about football to be published in 1974, the same year Germany hosted the World Cup."

Characters such as Castel have always been a staple for football fans throughout the years.

English youngsters were held in thrall by the trials and tribulations of Roy Race, the eponymous hero of the "Roy of the Rovers" series who dazzled during decades with the fictional Melchester Rovers club.

Castel's career began in 1979, the year the real Barca team lifted the European Cup Winners' Cup, and his story was told across 15 albums running until 1992 -- the year the Catalans became champions of Europe for the first time.

"Nothing sounds better for a younger Barca supporter than a comic hero who wears the shirt of his team and lives so many adventures," says filmmaker Uri Garcia, who is hoping to produce a documentary about Castel.

"On the other hand, as seen in the comics, the drawing style of Reding is very realistic and is very well documented.

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"I live in Barcelona, and during my childhood I lived next to the Camp Nou. For me, as well as for many fans of Catalonia, it was very exciting and special to see your city and your football club drawn as well in a comic."

While his exploits on the pitch excited readers, it was Castel's friendship with a group of young boys which was central to his appeal.

"My favorite moment could be when Castel meets Pablito and the juniors in Tossa de Mar in the first album," recalls Garcia, referring to the Catalonia municipality, which is north of Barcelona.

"Castel trains with the guys in the middle of the street but they don't know that he is the new star of Barca."

Reding's portrayal of the relationship between Castel and Pablito Varela and his friends, the "Pablitos", allowed every young child to imagine what it would be like to befriend a soccer superstar.

"Reding did well in creating a strong relationship between Castel and the 'Pablitos' despite their age differences," says Jouanneaux, who is a FIFA agent.

"Everyone can find himself in this comic. A child can dream to live events like the 'Pablitos' did."

True cule

As with all good stories, Castel's career took a sudden twist in 1984 when the goalscorer signed for PSG.

"As a French citizen, I was happy to see him at a French club," says Jouanneaux. "That was a big success for the French championship and also the possibility to see French stadiums and teams.

"On the other hand, this move was a little disappointing. Everybody wondered, could his relationship with the 'Pablitos' continue?"

Castel's transfer came back to haunt the fictional Barca team in edition eight after he powered PSG to victory in the CEVA Cup, a made up European competition, beating the Catalan club in the final.

Castel fans were outraged. The character had never won the CEVA Cup with Barca and now he had extinguished his former club's hopes.

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"The whole affair led to outrage among followers of the series, who were devastated by Raymond Reding and Françoise Hugues' decision to transfer Eric Castel to Paris Saint-Germain," said Barca's official website.

"Not only that, but to also have him participate in the defeat of Barça in the most important club competition in Europe."

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Having spent issues eight and nine in the French capital, and after Barca lowered their financial demands, Castel made an emotional return to the Catalan club.

His comeback was the stuff of dreams for young Barca and Castel fans. In 1988, four years after leaving the Nou Camp, Castel finally fired the club to CEVA Cup success.

"I liked so much the moment when Barça wins the final of CEVA with a penalty from Eric in the 12th album 12," says Garcia.

"In the 1980s Barça had never won the Champions League. It was a great time to be a Barca supporter.

"Before Barça became the great Barça that it is today, a Belgian illustrator took a chance on this club by making the hero of his comic, a fictional French footballer called Eric Castel, a player for the team.

"Castel quickly became an idol for many young readers in the '80s, all over the world."

In reality Barca and PSG are both attempting to conquer Europe, with Wednesday's second leg tie in Barcelona delicately poised after the first leg in Paris finished 2-2.

If he were still around today, who would Castel want to advance to the semfinals?

"I believe that Eric is a Barça supporter," responds Garcia. "He is a real cule."

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