Fresh from signing a new deal earlier this week, Gerard Piqué is celebrating his 31st birthday today. UEFA.com builds a shrine to a prankster, a romantic and a fine footballer.
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A two-time UEFA Champions League winner and FIFA World Cup winner by the age of 24, Gerard Piqué has enjoyed a seemingly never-ending cycle of trophies and triumphs for club and country. UEFA.com pays tribute to the towering defender – who signed a new contract with Barcelona earlier in the week – as he reaches the grand old age of 31.
What they say
"It's a special day. Gerard Piqué is an experienced player, a Barça fan from birth and let's hope we can continue to keep winning trophies. The deal was an easy one."
Josep Maria Bartomeu, Barcelona president
"Gerard Piqué is a finished product, he's one of the best centre-backs in the world."
Josep Guardiola, former Barcelona coach
"Everyone knew how good a player he was. He had so many qualities. Maybe he wasn't suited to the Premier League, but Spain suits him down to the ground. Gerard has been phenomenal."
Rio Ferdinand, former Manchester United team-mate
"Piqué was a terrific player and I was deeply disappointed when he told us he wanted to move back to Spain. He was an exceptional passer of the ball and a great personality with a winning mentality."
Sir Alex Ferguson, former Manchester United manager
"He is a great communicator and he can be whoever he wants to be at Barça. When he finishes playing he could be a coach, a president, whatever he likes, because he's a Barcelona fan through and through, and he's a very intelligent guy."
Luis Enrique, former Barcelona coach
International: 94 appearances, 5 goals
UEFA club competition: 98 appearances, 11 goals
Domestic competition: 362 appearances, 31 goals
Claims to fame
• Sir Alex Ferguson was so keen to sign the centre-half, just 17 at the time, that he joined the player and his family for dinner. "I was surprised, because he was the coach of United for 20 years and he had the time to come and speak with my family and with me," remembered Piqué, who has called Ferguson "a second father".
• Piqué made 23 appearances in all competitions for United over three seasons, scoring two goals as his club won the League Cup in 2006 and a Premier League and UEFA Champions League double in 2008. He spent 2006/07 back in Spain, on loan with Real Zaragoza.
• He chose to return to Spain as he was unable to break up United's central defensive pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić. "They were one of the best centre-back partnerships in the world," he recalled. "It was really difficult to get in and get games."
• Piqué ended up being a European champion in successive seasons with different clubs; he appeared three times in United's 2008 UEFA Champions League run – but did not make the bench for the final – yet was a starter as Barcelona beat his old team 2-0 in the 2009 decider in Rome. The game was notable for Barça's supreme control in midfield but Piqué made a vital early intervention, bravely blocking a goal-bound shot from Ji-Sung Park to prevent United scoring first.
• Piqué has now lifted 25 trophies with Barcelona, including six Liga titles and three UEFA Champions Leagues, making him the joint third most decorated player in Blaugrana history alongside Xavi Hernández and Sergio Busquets, behind only Andrés Iniesta and Lionel Messi.
• A striker as a youngster, Piqué has always liked getting forward and boasts an impressive 37 goals for Barça, making him the club's third top scoring centre-back, behind Alexanko (42 goals) and Ronald Koeman (90).
• A losing finalist at U17 level in 2004 against Karim Benzema's France, he won the 2006 UEFA European Under-19 Championship with Spain – yet missed the decisive shoot-out penalty as his side were beaten by Czech Republic in the quarter-finals of the 2007 FIFA U-20 World Cup.
• The defender made his Spain debut in a 2-0 friendly win against England on 6 February 2009 and had a dream competitive debut in a FIFA World Cup qualifier against Turkey the following month, grabbing the only goal in a 1-0 victory.
• Piqué won the 2010 World Cup and UEFA EURO 2012 with Spain, striking an unexpected partnership with Real Madrid rival Sergio Ramos in the heart of defence as his club-mate Carles Puyol was injured. "Now we have a great relationship," he said of Ramos. "The day before every game we always meet up in the captain's room and speak about everything."
What you might not know
• Piqué's new Barcelona contract runs until June 2022 and includes a buyout clause of €500m.
• He was born and bred a Barcelona fan thanks to grandfather Amador Bernabéu, a longstanding club director and vice-president, who signed him up as a member the day he was born.
• The centre-back had a traumatic brush with tragedy as a toddler, falling off a balcony in his grandparents' home and spending hours in a coma before making a full recovery.
• Piqué took a particular interest in the dressing-room pranks at Manchester United. "They do hilarious things to each other and it's fine; they don't complain, they just try to get their own back," he said, recalling one instance when Patrice Evra's brand new shoes were burned. "I tried a few pranks when I went back to Barcelona, like deflating car tyres, and they went ballistic at me." Piqué did not entirely lose his mischievous side, however, setting off a stink bomb on the team plane on a pre-season trip to Helsinki.
• He enjoyed a close, albeit unlikely, friendship with Barça colleague Puyol, in many ways his polar opposite and who acted like an older, wiser brother. Piqué summed up their contrasting characters with an anecdote. "One time the game was stopped, someone was on a stretcher, and he was shouting at me. I said to him: 'Calm down, it's 4-0.' He said: 'So what? Focus! I know you.' I was dying with laughter."
• Piqué began courting his partner Shakira before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, first meeting the singer in Madrid to appear in the music video for her hit song Waka Waka alongside other Spain players. He then made a bold promise. "I knew she'd be at the closing ceremony so I said to her: 'If I have to reach the World Cup final to see you again, I'll make sure Spain make it.'"
• A video games fanatic – particularly football games – the defender created his own game Golden Manager, setting up the company Kerad Games with his family.
• Piqué has a peculiar way of marking milestone wins: stealing goal nets. He cut the nets from the goals after each UEFA Champions League final triumph with Barça, and also went to great lengths to take home the nets from the World Cup final in Johannesburg, heading to the groundsman's office to demand his unique souvenir.
What he says
• "I'm very happy to have renewed my contract and I hope it will not be the last. I'm not interested in playing for another team. I play football because I play for Barça. If I was at another team, I would have retired."
• "I'm very impulsive and like to stray from the established way. It's as if we should all act in the way society wants and stay within certain limits, but not me. I like to express myself – I do what I feel and I'm happy to be that way."
• "If you stop now and start to realise what you have achieved then you start to relax and you start to lose. I don't think about everything I have achieved. I will do when I retire because then I will have a lot of days to remember."
• "It's a responsibility when you have won as much as I have done – as much as the teams I have played for have done – because the fans are waiting for more."
What he might achieve yet
• Piqué has already won every major trophy possible with Barcelona and since he plans to see out his career at his boyhood team, becoming the club's most decorated player is an achievable aim. The only problem is that Iniesta and Messi, who have six more trophies than him, show little sign of leaving.
• He has made no secret of his ambition to emulate his grandfather by becoming a Barcelona director, with his eyes on the top job of president. "Piqué has great leadership qualities – he always achieves what he wants," said Xavi. "It'd be a dream to be the coach while he is president. I can certainly see it happening."