PETE JENSON: Gerard Pique is owed lots of money by Barcelona but his departure is not as unthinkable as it seemed when Xavi arrived… his split with Shakira is not a concern but if they can sign better defenders the reliance on him will diminish
- Xavi told Gerard Pique he might not be a first-choice selection next season
- Barcelona boss got sense Pique was not 100 per cent committed to the cause
- Barca’s central problem with Pique is financial, as he is owed backdated salary
- Pique has also shown he is keen to step back from commercial commitments
- There is a feeling that this is Xavi doing what he wanted to do when he arrived
Legends can go one of two different ways when they leave Barcelona.
Xavi and Andres Iniesta waved goodbye to full stadiums surrounded by their trophies; Lionel Messi made a tearful goodbye in a short sanitised media event, having played his final game weeks before in an empty stadium because of the pandemic, and Pep Guardiola also left via the back door after appearing unaccompanied in a hurriedly organised press conference.
So how will it be for Gerard Pique? That’s the question everyone connected with Barcelona is now asking after Xavi told him he might not be a first-choice selection next season.
Gerard Pique is owed a lot of money by Barcelona but his departure is not deemed unthinkable
Manager Xavi (second from right) told him he might not be a first choice selection next season
In a meeting between Xavi and Pique at the end of last season the coach expressed his disillusion with the sense that Pique was not 100 per cent committed to the cause.
He complained about the noise that surrounds the player affecting the rest of the squad and distracting from matters on the pitch.
He told him that the only way he would continue to be the bedrock of the defence would be if he let his sport and media investment company Kosmos Holding take a back seat, and put his social media commitments to one side; and that even then the plan was to sign another central defender to partner Ronald Araujo.
Pique’s response was positive. The defender has told the coach he will make football his sole priority and that he wants to stay so much so that he is prepared to take a further pay cut to remain at the club he has now played a huge role for in the 14 years since he returned from his loan at Manchester United in 2008.
He told him his sport and media investment company Kosmos Holding must take a back seat
What remains to be seen now is whether or not those vows make for a lasting truce or the club and its greatest ever defender part company before the new season starts. Spoiler alert: Pique has two years left on his contract and is owed a considerable amount of money by Barcelona.
Barca’s central problem with Pique is financial. He earns around £13million (€15m) net plus add-ons for bonuses. He is also owed backdated salary he allowed the club to postpone payment of during the pandemic.
He waived some salary, and agreed to backdate some. During the two years left on his contract it has been widely reported he is due £35m (€40m) net from Barcelona, that’s £69m (€80m) gross that the club, desperate to reduce its wage bill from £484m (€560m) to £346m (€400m), has to find from somewhere.
It’s money the club want to spend on building a new defence. They want to register Andreas Christensen, pay whatever it takes to get Cesar Azpilicueta out of Chelsea (if Todd Boehly decides he cannot leave for free), and sign a new left back.
The club want to use the £35m owed to him to help sign the likes of Cesar Azpilicueta
They need to make financial room to do all that and Xavi feels the defensive overhaul will need one more addition in the shape of a big name central defender.
Although it’s completely unrealistic to expect the club to be able to compete with Premier League suitors for Chelsea target Jules Kounde and Manchester United target Pau Torres in its current state that may change if they successfully sell Frenkie de Jong to Manchester United for £65m, and begin to sell off other non-playing assets.
There is a feeling that this is Xavi doing what he wanted to do when he arrived but felt he couldn’t. There was no shortage of speculation that he would bluster in and sweep veterans Pique, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets out of the dressing room when he took over last year.
But it was impossible because they were still the team’s best performers and Barcelona were in a desperate scramble to make the top four.
It’s completely unrealistic to expect the club to compete with Premier League suitors for Jules Kounde (left) and Pau Torres (right)
Now with the possibility that if certain players leave others can come, Pique’s departure is not so unthinkable. If the club members vote this week to allow the club to sell off 49 per cent of its retail arm and 25 per cent of future TV rights revenue then there were will be even greater scope to rebuild.
Xavi remembers how Guardiola moved on first Deco and then Ronaldinho, and then later Samuel Eto’o so that he and Iniesta and Messi could become leaders. Some times older generals must leave before new ones take to their feet. There are also concerns over fitness.
Pique has missed 31 league games over the last two seasons with injuries that now – he turned 35 in February – take longer to mend.
He has promised Xavi he will be back to his physical peak for the start of next season and is already working to that end. Xavi will also know that when he was fit last season Pique was Barcelona’s best defender by some distance.
He cancelled an appearance in Valencia last week to present the semi-finals of the Davis Cup
Pique has also, in the recent past, shown keen to step back from commercial commitments.
Spanish radio Cope reported that he cancelled an appearance in Valencia last week to present the semi-finals of the Davis Cup and it’s not the first time he has stepped away from the tennis tournament his company has revamped.
Pique was also behind last year’s Balloon World Cup – an international tournament played in mocked-up living room ‘courts’ and broadcast on social media platform Twitch in which competitors wearing crash helmets tried to keep a party balloon in the air during two minutes matches.
Pique is rarely out of the news and this summer he and Colombian singer Shakira announced they had separated, asking for privacy for their sons Milan and Sasha.
The player’s marital situation is not believed to be of much concern to Xavi but other stories closer to football are.
The player’s marital split from Colombian singer Shakira is not believed to be of much concern
Two months ago he took to his channel on Twitch to defend himself against the accusation that his involvement in setting up the revamped Spanish Super Cup final four play-offs in Saudi Arabia revealed an unethical conflict of interest.
The company he founded Kosmos Holdings received £3.4m (€4m) commission from the Saudis for the setting up of the new annual four-team tournament played there until 2025.
Smaller clubs in Spain were upset when a series of WhatsApp conversations included chats between Rubiales and Pique talking about how profits would be apportioned – Barcelona and Madrid earning £7m (€8m), Atletico Madrid and Valencia just £1.73m (€2m) and £864,000 (€1m).
Pique was whistled playing for Barcelona at Real Sociedad after the revelations before he defended himself on his Twitch channel.
Leaked chats between Luis Rubiales and Pique talked about how profits from the Spanish Super Cup would be apportioned
Xavi was asked before the game about the controversy causing a distraction in the lead up to the match. ‘I’m not bothered,’ he said.
‘What bothers me is when players are not committed, when they don’t give everything in training, and when they don’t follow the rules. I was a team-mate of Gerard. I know how he handles these things.
‘He handles them very well. I think it even makes him perform better. It’s like fuel for him. He has been brilliant for us lately and we have missed him when he has been out.’
They did miss him last season. As one commentator put it: ‘Fit Pique is Barcelona’s best defender and a half-fit Pique is their second best.’ So what has changed for Xavi now not to be so happy with the situation?
Pique helped set up Barcelona’s four-year sponsorship deal with Rakuten in 2017 for £47m
This is a new beginning. If the club can sign better defenders this summer then the reliance on Pique could diminish. He clearly doesn’t want it to. Not yet.
His business acumen has benefited Barcelona in the past. He helped set up their four-year sponsorship deal with Rakuten in 2017 for £47m (€55m) a season. No one will be surprised if he ends up as President of the club one day.
But for now he is still a player. One of the greats, but coming towards the end of his career, and with a coach – a former team-mate and friend – who needs to cut the wage bill, and who wants to build something new with fresh leaders unshackled by the presence of others who have won so much before.
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