Ready to Pique a fight

> Agent provo­ca­teur Gerard leads Barca into fresh Cla­sico bat­tle <

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

AMONG the stal­warts of Barcelona’s near decade of dom­i­nance of Span­ish foot­ball there is no one that stokes the ire of Real Madrid like Gerard Pique.

Pique is Barca’s best de­fender, leader, pos­si­ble fu­ture pres­i­dent and prin­ci­pal provo­ca­teur to the Madrid fans and me­dia.

Yet, ahead of the lat­est meet­ing be­tween the Span­ish gi­ants on Satur­day, Barcelona, who trail Madrid by six points at the top of La Liga, need the positive side of Pique’s game and char­ac­ter more than ever.

“With you it all be­gan” are words the for­mer Manchester United man has be­come syn­onomous with in Spain.

His thanks to Colom­bian mu­si­cian Kevin Roldan at Barca’s tre­ble cel­e­bra­tions in 2015 for per­form­ing at Cris­tiano Ron­aldo’s 30th birth­day party that pre­cip­i­tated a Madrid col­lapse in La Liga sparked a wicked back­lash.

Pique was booed for months af­ter even when play­ing for Spain.

How­ever, the roles may now be re­versed. Madrid’s re­vival un­der coach Zine­dine Zi­dane in 2016 be­gan when Pique opened the scor­ing the last time the sides met in April.

When Pique nod­ded Barca in front, the Cata­lans were set to move a mam­moth 13 points clear in the ti­tle race.

In­stead, Real bat­tled back to win 2-1, missed out on the ti­tle to Barca by just one point on the fi­nal day of the sea­son and haven’t lost in La Liga since.

Whilst the cap­taincy at the Camp Nou is awarded based on longevity, Pique is un­doubt­edly the leader of this Barca team now shorn of the likes Car­les Puyol and Xavi Her­nan­dez.

“On Satur­day we have more to play for than Madrid, they can lose, we can’t,” he said on Mon­day. “We al­ways need to be­lieve in this team.”

Of­ten cho­sen to face the me­dia in the most dif­fi­cult times, Pique also sets the tone on and off the field for a Barca side that has lost some of its iden­tity this sea­son.

The cham­pi­ons had less pos­ses­sion in a match they didn’t win for the first time since 2008 in be­ing thor­oughly out­played by Real So­ciedad in a 1-1 draw on Sun­day.

“The per­for­mance at Anoeta was a dis­as­ter,” said Pique, who was brought through the club’s famed youth academy along­side Lionel Messi be­fore re­turn­ing to Barca in 2008 af­ter a brief spell in Eng­land.

“He ex­presses him­self won­der­fully. He has a great abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate,” was Barca boss Luis En­rique’s re­ac­tion to Pique’s re­cent ad­mis­sion that he sees him­self as a fu­ture Barca pres­i­dent rather than coach.

“I would vote for him,” added Manchester City boss and still Barca mem­ber Pep Guardi­ola.

Pique is far from all talk. Cur­rent Barca pres­i­dent Josep Maria Bar­tomeu ad­mit­ted the club’s € 220mil­lion (RM1.045b) shirt spon­sor­ship with Japanese on­line re­tailer Rakuten was ini­ti­ated by a din­ner set up by Pique and his world fa­mous Colom­bian pop star part­ner Shakira.

How­ever, his out­spo­ken na­ture has of­ten caused a back­lash.

Pique has openly sup­ported a cam­paign for Cat­alo­nia to be given a ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence.

In Oc­to­ber he an­nounced his de­ci­sion to re­tire from in­ter­na­tional foot­ball af­ter the 2018 World Cup af­ter be­ing falsely ac­cused of cut­ting the colours of the Span­ish flag off his shirt in the lat­est of se­ries of spu­ri­ous con­tro­ver­sies ques­tion­ing his com­mit­ment to play for Spain.

In a match al­ways charged with po­lit­i­cal as well as sport­ing ten­sion, Span­ish eyes will be peeled on Pique’s per­for­mance as much as Messi and Ron­aldo. – AFP French Ligue 1 Lille 4 (Eder 13, Sl­iti 24, De Rous­sel de Pre­ville 64, Lopes 65) Caen 2 (Feret 31, Rodelin 84); Lori­ent 2 (Ciani 28, Waris 46) Rennes 1 (Sio 33); Di­jon 1 (Sam­mar­i­tano 87) Monaco 1 ( Carrillo 17).

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