One of the finest centre-backs of his generation, Gerard Pique has been as responsible as anyone for Barcelona’s success over the last decade or so.
The elegant Catalan might’ve lost some pace now, but his superior football brain has bought him that extra half a yard. He remains one of the first names on Ernesto Valverde’s team sheet and when he finally decides to hang up his boots, Pique will take some replacing.
After all, look how difficult the Blaugrana have found it since Carles Puyol retired. Samuel Umtiti aside, the board haven’t managed to buy anything like the quality required for that position.
Now aged 31, Pique is coming to the twilight years of his career, and with extending his appearances at club level in the forefront of his mind, an expected announcement that he has retired from the Spanish national team should soon follow.
Unless of course, new-man-in-charge Luis Enrique has managed to persuade him otherwise. In any event, there’ll be some behind the scenes at the Camp Nou that will be glad to see the back of him.
An amiable individual, Pique nevertheless has another side to him which has landed him in hot water with his club on more than one occasion. The most recent will almost certainly ensure that Barcelona can’t forgive and forget, whatever excellence he brings to the back four.
But let’s rewind a little for some context…
Back in late 2015, Pique led some members of the squad into a Getafe press conference. Dressed in Halloween attire, the plan was to scare Luis Enrique, however, the group of merry men had misjudged their timing and ended up gate crashing their opponents turn to face the media.
Far from apologising, Pique revelled in the notoriety, preferring to suggest that “people get pissed off when we win and enjoy ourselves.”
That may be, but the fall-out from the incident was enough for Andres Iniesta to pick up the phone and apologise to opposite number, Pedro Leon, followed by a more formal written apology from one club to the other.
With a stated aim of becoming president of the club one day, it was conduct unbecoming at best from Pique.
Adept at playing the social media game too, it wasn’t long afterwards before he had incurred the wrath of Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos and his colleagues.
After Los Blancos had mistakenly played Denis Cheryshev in the Copa del Rey against Cadiz, ensuring their participation in the competition that year ended immediately, Pique simply tweeted nine crying and laughing emojis which received almost a quarter of a million retweets and another 100,000 likes.
It also garnered the attention of board members at the Santiago Bernabeu, none of whom were particularly impressed.
A long-running feud with La Liga’s refereeing fraternity also caused much consternation, and it came to a head at the start of 2017.
In fairness, a particularly poor performance by the officials at Villarreal gave Pique some ammunition, however, a rant at league chief, Javier Tebas, who was sat in the stands, did him no favours. “Did you see that?” he said over and over, motioning to his eye with his finger after Barcelona had been denied two clear-cut penalties.
“We want to play football, not roulette,” he said afterwards, further stoking the fire. Barcelona president, Josep Maria Bartomeu was again forced into an embarrassing climbdown.
The summer of 2017 saw Neymar leave for Paris Saint-Germain, however, it was Pique’s ‘Se queda’ (he stays) tweet that also filled the column inches.
Almost every media outlet pounced upon the ‘news’ only for the Brazilian to still end up leaving. When Pique admitted that he knew Neymar was going before he sent out the message, it made a bad PR situation for the club noticeably worse.
On a personal level, it ensured he was front and centre yet again. Bravo!
His belittling of cross-town neighbours Espanyol last season left a sour taste, but it’s perhaps his involvement in Antoine Griezmann’s ‘The Decision’ video at the end of the campaign that’s the straw which broke the camel’s back.
Bartomeu and his board had been entirely convinced for months that the French World Cup winner would be joining on July 1, 2018, when Griezmann’s buyout clause was reduced to €100m, only for the rug to be pulled from under them in the most spectacular (some would say creative) manner.
Pique’s production company, Kosmos Studios, were behind the filming of what turned into a 30-minute documentary of how Griezmann reached his decision to stay at Atletico Madrid.
It made compelling if slightly questionable viewing, and with Pique proudly tweeting that it was the No.1 trending topic in Spain and No.3 worldwide, it inevitably led to suggestions that the centre-back had finally ‘crossed the line.’
A professional e-sports league founded by Pique, and the transformation of the Davis Cup tennis tournament by his company are just two other outside interests that it could be alleged take his focus away from what he’s handsomely remunerated for.
And though the defender was instrumental in getting Rakuten on board to be Barcelona’s new headline sponsors, one can’t help but feel that the controversial side of his character is ensuring a swifter than usual detachment from his paymasters.
As a senior player in the dressing room, with an opinion that holds weight with younger colleagues particularly, Barcelona will be acutely aware of how damaging his words and actions can be and have been.
Noticeably never a first-team captain, despite aspirations far beyond that level, for someone that is clearly so intelligent it begs the question as to why Gerard Pique continues to revel in rubbing people up the wrong way…