Barcelona face Real Madrid in El Clasico this afternoon, that most iconic of European football fixtures. Much of the pre-match talk has centred around the absence of Lionel Messi and Sergio Ramos, both of whom departed for Paris Saint-Germain this past summer. But one veteran still available for the tie is Gerard Pique.
Now that Messi no longer calls the Camp Nou home, the Catalan centre-back is undisputedly the most important man at the club, certainly its living embodiment. Now 34, he came through La Masia before departing for Manchester United in 2004. He returned to Barcelona in 2008, and has become a club legend.
Pique has led Barcelona to eight La Liga titles, seven Copa del Rey titles, six Supercopa de Espana titles, three Champions League titles, three European Super Cups and three Club World Cups. With La Roja, he won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012.
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His experience is more important now than ever given that Barcelona are in the midst of a period of such tumultuous transition. He stepped up to the plate midweek to score the decisive goal in Barcelona’s Champions League victory over Dynamo Kyiv, becoming the competition’s highest-scoring defender in the process.
Speaking with El Pais in comments carried by Marca, Pique revealed that he feels good for his age and doesn’t plan on going anywhere soon. The day he feels he can no longer contribute as he always has, he said, is the day he’ll hang up his boots.
“The other day I saw the record that I was the oldest to score a European goal with Barcelona and it depressed me,” Pique joked. “I would rather have not scored it.
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“Then I saw that I was the defender with the most goals in the competition, beating Roberto Carlos, and I felt better, much better. But I don’t feel older. Of course I’m of a certain age, but it’s only when I see that I’m not as important as I’ve always been that I’ll go away.
“I still have the rebellious Gerard [inside me], that kid who makes the same jokes. And when I’m physically well, I feel it. I’m not the fastest [any more], but I can compete against the best and not feel inferior. As long as I feel that, I’ll play.
“I will retire at Barcelona. That’s for sure. What I won’t accept is to retire as a substitute. Let’s see, if that’s the last three months of a season and it’s my turn, well. But a whole year on the bench? No. I don’t feel like it.”