Gerard Piqué talks exclusively to Guillem Balague in the latest edition of Champions magazine. Here, in an extract from that article, the FC Barcelona defender compares playing for the Blaugrana with life at former club Manchester United FC.
Believe it or not, some players do not like football. At the other end of the spectrum, Gerard Piqué eats, sleeps and breathes the game. His father played in the third division, and his grandfather, despite being called Bernabéu, was on the board at FC Barcelona.
Still only 23, Piqué might be something of a lucky charm. He has won eight trophies: the Premier League and UEFA Champions League with Manchester United FC, followed by the six titles Barcelona secured last year. For all his success, though, he retains a healthy fear of defeat.
"You have to be confident in football, but a fear of losing is obligatory, and you should never lose those butterflies you get whenever you step out on to the pitch. But deep down, you have to feel like a winner."
Piqué has the air of a winner: tall and comfortable on the ball, he provides a jovial yet strong presence in the dressing-room. He left Barcelona at 17 in 2004 and returned four years later "more mature", according to his mother, and "built like a wardrobe" in the words of Josep Guardiola.
Now very much at home, the young Catalan believes an affinity with a club is pivotal to success. "I understand that a player coming from another place plays for his individual prestige and to win trophies, and by doing that helps the team. Yet I can assure you that I could never have the same feelings for the United shirt as a player from their youth academy can.
"However, Barcelona players are very aware of what this club means. You don't need many lessons for that. [Thierry] Henry saw it as soon as he joined Barça." Piqué identifies a different dynamic in each of the dressing rooms he has known. "Even though we're really tight at Barça, there are different groups. There are the Catalans, who are the captains, the home-grown players with the club in their blood.
"But there are other players, like Titi [Henry] and [Eric] Abidal, who bring a lot of experience. Guardiola gives the orders, albeit tactfully. I'm still young with a lot to learn, but I like the fact that when I give my opinion, it is listened to and respected.
"In Manchester, there was more of a hierarchy. The senior players were greatly respected, and it was taken for granted that the likes of Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes were in charge."
Such is Guardiola's managerial style that Piqué views his coach as something of a big brother. "
Guardiola has won me over with his openness," the Spanish international added. "New players have come in and he wants them to understand the thinking behind what he tells them to do. He's the ideal coach and he doesn't look at a player's age.
"If he thinks you are up to it, he'll give you a chance. He took a bold step with me because it is not easy to play a young centre-half, a position that carries a great deal of responsibility, at Barça."
That responsibility is handled with his combination of technique honed at the Barça youth academy and physical maturity acquired in Manchester. "
I learned how to defend without the ball at United. I got a real wake-up call the first time some big bloke beat me to a couple of headers.
"I realised then that it isn't enough to be big, you have to learn how to use your body, to get stuck in. With Barcelona and Spain I try to start a move, pick the most beneficial pass for a team-mate, look for the one-twos, and build up play from the back."
Playing abroad helped his development, but Piqué concedes it was not always as easy or glamorous as it might seem. "I spent a lot of time at home. I missed my family. I spent everything I earned on satellite dishes, but mine got stolen every week. It wasn't until the fourth time it happened that the police discovered the dishes were being stolen by the same people fitting them in the first place."
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