Gerard Piqué joined Manchester United FC aged just 17 having come through the FC Barcelona youth ranks. Four years later, in 2008, he returned to the Camp Nou and is now preparing for a second UEFA Champions League final against his former employers.
Piqué made just 12 league appearances during his four seasons at Old Trafford, but the assured Spain defender has flourished since his homecoming. A three-time Liga winner, the 24-year-old also has a UEFA Champions League crown on his CV as well as the 2010 FIFA World Cup. His memories of United, however, are full of positives.
"It was a difficult time and there were hard moments when you don't understand why you're not playing," he told UEFA.com. "But they had two great central defenders, Rio [Ferdinand] and [Nemanja] Vidić, so it was tough for me to get a chance. It was still a great experience to play there with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, [Wayne] Rooney, [Ruud] van Nistelrooy. I went there when I was 17 and came back when I was 21. The Gerard who went was very different to the one who came back.
"With regards to Sir Alex Ferguson, I have to say that although I didn't play a lot, I had a good relationship with him. He was always very direct with me. With Sir Alex we talked openly, and I never had a problem. Then I got the offer from Barcelona and I went up to him and told him 'It is a pleasure to play here, but I would like to leave', that I wanted to go back home. He tried to convince me otherwise, but he understood."
Full of praise for Sir Alex, it is nonetheless under the guidance of Josep Guardiola that Piqué has gone from strength to strength. "Both are great motivators," he said. "All coaches know something about football – some more, some less – but it's all about how to motivate the player, knowing how to transmit what you want from them. If you compare them with each other they have many things in common."
Most impressed by how "professional in their everyday work" the players in the Premier League were, Piqué can scarcely wait for another reunion, having also started in Barça's 2009 final success against United. Though his affections for his former club are obvious, it is Barcelona who have the most notable place in his heart.
"It's about all the supporters and fans that unite and come to see Barça, no matter where they are from," he said of the club's emotive anthem. "It is about the team, trying to motivate them with this chant. It's the power all the supporters give to the team, their contribution to taking the last step.
At Wembley all the supporters will come together and give great support to the team to win the Champions League."
On Friday, Piqué talks UEFA.com through the Barcelona squad.
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