On the Spot: Gerard Piqué

Every week at The Center Circle, we are highlighting a different player in a feature we call “On the Spot”. We’ll take a look at superstars, underrated gems, aging veterans, and young unknowns who should be known. We’ll peruse their club and international careers, taking note of their teams, statistics, and highlight reels. We’ll illuminate their strengths and weaknesses and comment on their personalities and reputations. It will be some fun. If there is anyone you want to see “On the Spot”, feel free to comment below.

Gerard Pique

Barcelona's Pique

In the next month, Barcelona have the opportunity to achieve one of the most elusive accomplishments in modern day soccer: the Treble. Having already claimed victory in La Liga, all that stands in the Catalan squad’s way is the Copa del Rey Final against Athletic Bilbao on May 30th, and the Champions League Final against Serie A Champions Juventus on June 6th. With the talent that Barca possess on the offensive side of the ball (Lionel Messi, Neymar, and Luis Suárez may be the best attacking trio in the world right now) it is easy to forget about the talent they have on the other end of the field as well. One of the stalwarts of this heralded defense, Gerard Piqué, has played a large part in Barcelona’s success up to this point in the season, and his performances in these last two cup finals will be a major factor in deciding whether or not the Spanish side will claim their first treble since 2009.

From Barca to Manchester

Gerard Pique with Man United

Like most of the stars in Barcelona’s team, Gerard Piqué’s upbringing started in the famed La Masia. At the age of ten, the young Spanish player started playing in the legendary Barcelona youth system, but decided that it was time for a change of scenery at the ripe age of 17 when he signed for Manchester United in 2004. Due to his young age, United were unable to sign the Spanish defender for a nominal fee.

Just three weeks after arriving in Northern England, Piqué made his first team debut for the mighty Red Devils during a League Cup match against Crewe Alexandria. During his first season with Sir Alex Ferguson’s side in 2004-05, the teenager managed to make a total of three appearances for the club, two of those coming off the bench including his Champions League debut in a group match against Fenerbache.

The following season, Piqué’s playing time with the first team increased, but his inexperience meant that his appearances were still limited. At that time, United’s defensive unit contained the likes of Rio Ferdinand, John O’Shea, Gary Neville and later in Nemanja Vidic so a consistent place in the starting lineup was almost impossible to obtain for the young player. Despite his age, Piqué was still able to appear in seven games in all competition for United, where he started four.

During the 2006-07 campaign, the Spanish defender was sent out on loan in order to get more first team experience. The lucky recipients of the player’s talents were Real Zaragoza back in his native La Liga. There, Piqué established himself as one of the regulars in Zaragoza’s starting lineup and his services helped the Spanish side to a sixth place finish and a place in the Europa League. At the end of the loan spell, Piqué had registered 26 appearances between the Copa del Rey and La Liga before returning to Old Trafford.

In his final season in Manchester, Piqué collected the first major silverware of his career. Nine Premier League appearances, paired with six in the Champions League (where he scored two goals in matches against Dynamo Kiev and AS Roma) meant that the defender was eligible to receive a winner’s medal at the conclusion of the season. A dramatic finish in Moscow against fellow English side Chelsea, meant that Piqué ended the season with a Premier League title, a Champions League title and a triumph in the Community Shield.

Coming Home

Barcelona win Champions League

Much to the dismay of Sir Alex, United sold the defender back to his parent club for a reported fee of €5 million, in what  would end up being one of the biggest bargains of the decade. In his first season back with Barcelona, Piqué immediately established himself as a first choice center back and started an impressive 25 league games for the Spanish giants. The play of Piqué in an impressive Barcelona back line helped the Catalans to a La Liga title, nine points clear of Real Madrid, while also maintaining the lowest goals against total in the league. The silverware didn’t stop there, however, as Piqué was able to experience the European treble with victories in the Copa del Rey and Champions League, where they beat his former employers Manchester United 2-0, in just his first year back in Spain.

Piqué retained his place in the starting lineup during the 2009-10 campaign and also managed to have his most successful offensive season, as well scoring four goals between the league and European competition. The 23-year-old’s trophy case continued to grow as he claimed a second straight La Liga title, a Spanish Super Cup crown, and a FIFA Club World Cup winner’s medal. The future looked very bright for one of the budding stars of the game.

Injuries to Carlos Puyol and Eric Abidal in the 2010-11 season meant that Barcelona leaned even more heavily on their young defender. His third season with the club saw Piqué appear in over 50 games for Barcelona, his highest professional total up to that point. The increase in responsibility did not seem to phase the Spaniard as Barcelona again claimed the Spanish title while allowing just 21 goals through the 38 game season (the lowest of any La Liga team). Piqué would again play United in a Champions League final when Barcelona met the English giants at Wembley and promptly dispatched them with a 3-1 romp.

Injuries limited the defender to just 17 league starts in his fourth season with the club, but did little to slow the growth of silverware Piqué was collecting. Despite the injuries, Piqué still managed to help the club win another Spanish Super Cup and the Copa del Rey, but he was unable to secure a fourth consecutive La Liga title as Real Madrid usurped their historic rivals for the crown.

In the past three years, Piqué has been a consistent face in the Barcelona starting eleven and his composure and experience on the ball provides the Spanish side with an invaluable wall at the heart of their defense. The growing chemistry between Piqué and Javier Mascherano in the center of the back line has propelled Barcelona to two more La Liga titles, and another Spanish Super Cup. I know this sounds like a broken record at this point, but Piqué’s stellar performances have helped Barcelona not only claim this 23rd La Liga title, but they did it again with the lowest goals against total in the league (19 in 37 games).

International Career

Pique and Fabregas with World Cup trophy

Since his debut for the Spanish National Team in 2009, Piqué has registered 66 total appearances for the legendary international outfit. He partnered with fellow Barcelona defender Carlos Puyol to form the center back pairing for Spain during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, where they were able to claim the nation’s first ever World Cup title, defeating the Netherlands 1-0 in a thrilling conclusion to the tournament. Piqué’s partnership with Sergio Ramos in the 2012 Euros again helped Spain claim another major crown. The Barcelona defender was on the field for every second of the Euro campaign and his play pushed La Roja to a comprehensive 4-0 defeat of Italy in the finals.

Style of Play

To be a successful part of Barcelona you have to be able to distribute the ball and Gerard Piqué is no exception to this. The 6-foot-4-inch defender is able to control the ball from the back and help coordinate the start of the attack, rather than just blast the ball forward to escape the pressure. In addition to his ability to perform pinpoint sliding challenges on opposing forwards, Piqué also possesses an impressive amount of strength to seal out opponents from the ball and squelch any threat to his goal. On set pieces, Piqué is a constant threat in the air and has been able to register 27 goals during his seven-year tenure at the Camp Nou.

Personal Life

Perhaps one of the main reasons that Gerard Piqué is well-known stateside is because of his spouse. The Barcelona defender is wed to international music sensation Shakira and the couple have two sons.

 

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About the author: Collin Carpio

 

I am currently a senior at the University of Missouri in the Journalism School. I have been an avid follower of Manchester United since 2006 and of course I support the Stars and Stripes. Due to my St. Louis high school allegiances, I am a big supporter of Brad Davis and Sporting KC in MLS.

 

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