FC Barcelona met Real Madrid C.F in the first of three mouth-watering Clasicos that are lined up in the next 25 days on Wednesday night. In the first leg of the Copa del Rey semi-finals at home, the Catalan outfit could only get a 1-1 draw- which can be considered a positive considering the fact that Messi did not start the game and Ousmane Dembele couldn’t even make it to the squad list. Malcom managed to wow everyone with his surprise inclusion and the shift he put in on the night that included a spectacular equalizer, Nelson Semedo consolidated the fact that he should be Barcelona’s best bet at the right-back position and Gerard Pique decided the course of the game in the lower third of the pitch as he has done so many times on big occasions for most of his career.
Impressed with Pique’s performance, I actually googled him up to read more takes on his virtuoso display last night. Instead of finding flowery articles praising his dominant defensive display, all I could get my hands on were extensive news articles that covered what Pique had to comment on the referee and the decisions against his national team compatriot Sergio Ramos. Gerard Pique’s mouth receiving more coverage than his feet is quite possibly the best metaphor his career could get.
There is more to Pique than meets the eye…
Slow, lacking a brazen rashness in his challenges and not exactly full of the testosterone-fuelled aggression Gerard Pique doesn’t cut your expectations of a conventional central defender. And yet, despite those shortcomings (if that’s the right word?), Pique has carved out a template for central defenders in the 21st century- highly intelligent in positioning, ability to anticipate and read space and movement and snuff out danger beforehand and a creative comfort on the ball that’s as tender as a mother caressing her newborn. Aymeric Laporte, Samuel Umtiti, John Stones, Matthijs de Ligt, Clement Lenglet are all footballers from the same crop and mould as Gerard Pique- a pattern that has defined defending in this generation largely inspired by Guardiola’s tenure at Barcelona with Gerard Pique. Hoofing it clear no longer does it for modern managers, the average centre-back needs to learn how to play the ball out from the back, be solid in possession and distribute it well by breaking lines and withstanding opposition pressure. “If I have to make a tackle, I have already made a mistake”, said Paolo Maldini, one of the greatest to ever play the sport. Gerard Pique’s career is a homage to that iconic and wise line.
Having left Barcelona’s youth ranks for Sir Alex’s United as a teenager, Pique credits the Scotsman for changing his life and career around. Despite hardly getting any solid game time at Manchester United, Pique went from a boy to a man under Sir Alex Ferguson’s wings and he would make his return to Barcelona as a prodigal son in Guardiola’s first season in charge of the first team in 2008. Gerard Pique arrived as the fourth choice center back but by the end of the season, he was starting in the Champions League final where Barcelona would beat Sir Alex’s United and then go on to win the sextuple. The following year, Pique would win the FIFA World Cup in a defensive line comprising of Puyol, Capdevila, Ramos and himself. So impressed was coach Vicente del Bosque with Gerard that he would move Sergio Ramos to the fullback position instead to accommodate the Barcelona duo of Pique and Puyol. Pique went on to win the Champions League the next year once again defeating Sir Alex’s United. Him chopping down the Wembley net with scissors to take it home as a souvenir would make it to the papers, an act he repeated yet again when Barcelona defeated Juventus in 2015 Champions League final.
Gerard Pique’s career would have it’s fair share of lows- in 2012 and 2014. By the end of Guardiola’s historic reign at Barcelona, Pique was exhausted and couldn’t keep up with the obsession his manager required of him and that saw a severe drop in his performances. This would happen by the end of 2013 and 2014 again where Barcelona would end up being hammered 7-0 by Bayern over two legs, going trophyless under Tata Martino and when Arjen Robben would destroy Pique’s career in a matter of seconds as the Netherlands ended Spain’s reign on the international scene with a 5-1 thumping.
Pique is vocal about a lot of social issues…
In the following season, Pique would sort his head out and get back to his elite best and the Champions League victory in 2015 would be a testament to the same. Since then, he has performed at the same level of consistency often being Barcelona’s most important and decisive player bar Lionel Messi of course. However, over the years, Gerard Pique’s active voice in off-field interests that include controversial topics like his rivals, the nature of Spanish politics, the fight for Catalan identity and some of his business ventures that includes media productions house and a new format and competition for global tennis.
“I have not spoken to Gerard Pique yet, but I admit that it’s a bit odd to see a footballer arrive and meddle in the tennis business. The Davis Cup should not become the Pique Cup,” warned Roger Federer.
Being resoundingly booed by his own country and its fans for his voice on Catalan separatism, Pique’s career has polarised critics and football fans alike. Gerard Pique isn’t the diplomatic average sportsperson, he is often straightforward and ruthless in his words.
“We won’t just shut up and dribble”, declared LeBron James in solidarity to fellow athletes who get slammed for saying anything outside their line of profession.
Gerard Piqué is cut out of the same cloth. A fine testimony of that would be the fact that Espanyol fans put up derogatory banners directed towards Shakira and Pique’s children every time Barcelona visit Cornella on the opposite side of town and the Santiago Bernabeu becomes the loudest every time Pique gets on the ball, such is the incessant hatred towards the Catalan defender. And yet, he emerges unfazed from the ashes and calmly slots in decisive masterclasses that fail to reach mainstream appeal.
It’s common knowledge that most people still fail to give credit to Pique’s sporting career as one of the best defenders in modern football, if not the very best under the influence of online memes, trolling, the incessant hatred at some of his opinions and his rough patch in 2012-2014. And in my humble opinion, that is a sinister crime as the art should not suffer because of the artist.
And when all is said and done, it’s true that sometimes Gerard Pique might be his own worst enemy but the best bit about it is he doesn’t care about it as long as he going out and embracing the brightest of lights, the loudest of crowd and the highest of pressures and doing what he does best- replying on the pitch unequivocally, unabashedly and unfazedly.