In what has been a far from smooth start to Barcelona’s 2016/17 season, one man has stood in the muddle with his head held high. Gerard Piqué may not be one of Barca’s four captains, but he is worth equal to each one of them, and some more.
Disastrous and crisis are two among a host of adjectives that have been associated with Luis Enrique’s Barca side of late. From Leo Messi’s injury to the 4-3 loss in Vigo, things have been turbulent for the Blaugrana, but Piqué has been one of the club’s better performers all the while.
And in the 2018 World Cup qualifier for Spain against Italy, the 29-year-old reached the 500-game milestone playing for both club and country, a significant feat that suggests a long career at the highest level, something that lesser and lesser number of footballers can do in the modern day.
Ever since Messi hobbled off the pitch in the Atlético game -- soon after which the Rojiblancos scored -- Piqué has, in a way, taken over the goalscoring responsibilities.
Three goals in two games, all of them in situations of adversity, has made Piqué an unlikely candidate as Barca’s saviour in tight games. Borussia Monchengladbach barely allowed the Blaugrana an inch in the Champions League, but Piqué managed to nick a late winner, and when Celta had them on the ropes last week, it was Piqué’s two goals that inspired a comeback, which did not meet its end.
Keeping his exploits in front of goal aside, Piqué has become the bastion of Barca’s backline at a time of relative transition. While Sergi Roberto has been making all the right noises at right-back, it is Piqué’s calm that allows Barca to play their way from the back.
Also factor in his different centre-back partners ranging from the young but inexperienced Samuel Umtiti, the ageing legs of Javier Mascherano to the increasingly erratic Jeremy Mathieu, Piqué hasn’t had a stable presence alongside him at the back which partly explains Barca’s poor defensive record this season.
At the same stage in the last two seasons under Luis Enrique, Barca conceded zero and nine goals in the league while the number has risen to 10 this term. There have been changes at the back, most notably after the sale of Claudio Bravo, but Piqué has also not been afforded stability.
As the current script goes, it is apt that Piqué hasn’t always had it easy. Even now, at the pinnacle of his personal career, the La Masia product is sailing a rough course. He started life under Enrique with questions over his attitude; his desire to make the talking off the pitch led to a few uncomfortable moments with the Asturian manager, whose decisions to leave Piqué on the bench or out of the squad were seemingly punishments to bring him on the right track. And as has been the theme of his career, Piqué put his head down and worked towards improving himself as a player, and now has reached a stage where his teams are a lesser force without him.
He has also put his injury history behind him, a sign of a top player, and has even drawn up plans for his future, wherein he dreams of becoming the Barca president.
One of the most marketable Spanish players, Piqué has stated his ambition to one day preside over matters at his club. The way he has planned to go about doing things marks him out as a sound thinker, a quality that has helped his game immensely.
According to reports, Piqué will sign one last extension with Barca. His current deals takes him to 2019 with the club, and the terms of running for presidency state that a candidate must not be part of the club in any capacity during the two years before elections.
Barca’s next presidential elections will be held in 2021, which could be too early for Piqué, but the way the defender is chalking out plans for his future, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him lead the club from the boardroom come 2027.
For all the negative media that he attracts, Piqué remains one of the cornerstones of Barca’s most successful sporting era. Captaincy or not, the local boy leads from the front in every way possible, and his value for both club and country has never be felt this highly before.