Gerard Pique suffers.
And that’s what Barcelona Club president Joan Laporta told a meeting of Socios in June. “We can believe that the players, with their fame and their money, are not suffering. He is a great person and we have the fortune to be a captain. He has given us so much, and he still has so much to give us.”
This came after Pique ended the 2021-22 season playing through pain due to an adductor muscle injury, with his crucial experience as the team ended a difficult season by securing qualification to the Champions League.
Fast forward four months and a bit around the Camp Nou believes Pique still has a lot to give to this team. The 35-year-old’s disastrous performance in last week’s Champions League group stage match with Inter Milan contributed directly to the 3-3 draw that almost certainly eliminated Barcelona from the competition.
Meanwhile, Laporta and other Barcelona managers have made it clear that Pique’s massive contract, which runs until June 2024, is an unwelcome burden on the club’s complex financial situation.
Pique was a late substitute in Thursday’s 3-0 La Liga win over Villarreal, with more whistles than the cheers of the Camp Nou fans as he joined in the action and the score was already long overdue. It only added to the feeling that he was playing one of his last matches for the club, and that the situation could have been better managed in all respects.
Laporta’s praise of Pique last summer was fitting for a player widely known as one of Barcelona’s best players of all time, winning three Champions League titles and eight La Liga titles over more than a decade in the Blaugrana shirt.
The Catalan is also steeped in Barcelona’s history – his grandfather Amador Bernabeu was vice-president of the club when Gerrard La Masia entered when he was 10 years old. As a top player, he proudly defended the club through often successful battles with his rivals in El Clasico Real Madrid And the neighboring city Espanol. He also contributed off the field – using his personal business connections to help former president Josep Maria Bartomeu secure lucrative sponsorship deals.
Such was his seemingly normal state in December 2017, when 30-year-old Pique agreed to a new five-year contract, although there were clear signs at that point that both the player and the team were past their peak. The deal allegedly secured the player €142 million before taxes, (According to Barcalex), a huge sum but in keeping with the impressive salary inflation during Bartomeu’s tenure.
This contract has been modified over the years, with Pique and other top players agreeing to defer the salary to the future to help Barcelona’s financial position, both during the latter stages of Bartomeu’s time in charge and since Laporta’s return as president in early 2021. This means Pique is known to have commissioned The club is around 30 million euros this year, and 40 million euros next year, in salary and taxes.
Historic salary deferrals are one reason (But far from the only one) Why Barcelona’s total cost (wages plus transfer fees depreciated) has risen again to €656m (£575m, $642m) for the 2022-23 season.
Those wages are also a reason why, even when Laporta was praising Pique’s contribution last June, the club was opening the door for him to leave. Together with his fellow “Captain” Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, and other high-income earners Frenkie de Jong and Marc-Andre ter Stegen. The pressure on Pique was not as harsh as the pressure on De Jong, but the club’s hierarchy made it clear to the player and his representatives that they did not want to pay all the money owed.
Meanwhile, several stories have appeared in the Catalan press claiming that the “leaders”, including Pique, were selfish and not loyal enough to Barcelona as an institution. Speaker after speaker at the last club general assembly, which took place three days before the Inter match, made this point in different ways. “We have to speed up exits or cancel contracts that are still above the market price,” said Jaume Guardiola, head of the club’s economic committee.
Laporta also joined this chorus with the frank contrast of how he and the other directors personally secured guarantees that Barcelona could score all new signings with La Liga last summer. “We tried with different players (to accept wage cuts), but this did not happen, so we had to give ourselves guarantees of 10 million euros,” said the club president.
The position of these players and their advisors is that they have already done a lot to help Barcelona over the past few years and will not give up the money that was agreed upon. Especially since Laporta and his board were busy last summer activating leverage to borrow from the future and spending €150m+ on new signings including Robert Lewandowski. None of the long-serving players enjoy being regularly channeled in such a negative way – considering everything they’ve done for the club on the pitch during their careers.
Xavi was more careful in his public statements about Pique, but the coach told his former colleague that in 2022-23 he will be Barcelona’s fifth central defender, behind the younger Ronald Araujo, Eric Garcia and summer arrivals Jules Conde. and Andreas Christensen. The proud Pique did not argue but emphasized that he was still confident that he could, once again, prove his value to the team.
The opportunity came when Conde and Araujo were injured while on international duty, with Christensen also sidelined. Pique contributed clean sheets against Mallorca and Celta Vigo in La Liga – and played a full part in the backguard’s moves as Barcelona maintained their 1-0 wins in both games.
After last week’s disaster against Inter It was a more realistic sign of Pique’s current competitive level. The enduring image of the game is of the veteran warrior extending his arms to indicate that everything was covered, before realizing that he had left Inter’s Nicolo Barilla behind to score the first goal for Inter. He was also caught when Ruben Goossens scored the Italians’ third goal, and there were whistles ringing around the Camp Nou every time Pique touched the ball late.
When Xavi then blamed “individual errors” for allowing Inter to return to the game, everyone knew that Pique was among those pointed out. There was no prospect of him playing in last weekend’s Clasico at Real Madrid, and neither Blaugrana fans nor pundits criticized the decision, even after Garcia missed two goals in a deserved 3-1 defeat.
The situation has brought a new focus to how Pique previously claimed that if he was no longer useful to Barcelona’s first team, he would step aside.
“I’m the first to make the bid if it means fresh blood,” he said right after the 8-2 Champions League quarter-final defeat to Bayern Munich in August 2020.
Pique told El Pais in October 2021, shortly after he quit in the first half as Barcelona lost 3-0 to Benfica in a Champions League group game. “I don’t want a whole season on the bench.”
However, there was no sign of him leaving for any other club, or even seriously considering the idea of playing for two years in it. MLSOr Japan or the Middle East – as his former teammates chose, David Villa, Andres Iniesta and Xavi. Even after being told last summer that he would play a little more this season, there was no real attempt to find a new club. His business interests also kept him close to home – his holding company Kosmos owns the Segunda Division Andorra team and runs the Davis Cup tennis competition.
For a man who is often in the spotlight, sharing his opinions, Pique has maintained a noticeably lower profile lately. He hasn’t spoken in the Camp Nou mixed zone all season and has also been quiet on social media. This is also amid turmoil in his personal life – his relationship with Shakira ended and local paparazzi are hunting the cannons for pictures of him with his new partner.
This silent suffering continued for another 90 minutes Thursday night. Previous Chelsea Full-back Marcos Alonso has been named alongside Conde in Barcelona’s central defense against Villarreal – which now makes Pique the sixth choice in the position. Alonso experienced some awkward moments in an unfamiliar position early in the game, but Lewandowski’s sharp double put Barcelona three points away from La Liga leaders Real Madrid. Pique did nothing wrong in the few minutes he spent on the field, but by that moment, the match was already over.
Both Laporta and Xavi have suggested in recent days that they may move to another central defense in the January market, with Athletic Bilbao’s Inigo Martinez targeting Athletic Bilbao. This means that pressure on Pique to compromise and either cancel his contract or accept a move to another club will continue. Even for someone with all their fame and money, it’s hard to find themselves in it, and there is no easy way out of it.
(Top photo: Alex Caparros/Getty Images)