His decline is a cause for concern. Once considered one of the world's finest defenders and even earmarked as a future skipper at Camp Nou, Gerard Pique has looked clumsy and cumbersome in recent months - a shadow of the player he once was.
Pique's problems began in Pep Guardiola's final season at Barcelona. PG and GP enjoyed an excellent relationship initially, but the coach grew frustrated at his player's attitude toward training and conditioning. As the defender's relationship with Shakira grew, so too did his waist: Pique fell in love with one of the world's most glamorous singers - and fell out of love with the beautiful game.
Guardiola tried everything to get Pique back on board, but was increasingly irked by the player's irresponsibility off the pitch: Gerard and Shakira posted pictures of them white-water rafting - an activity strictly forbidden in the player's contract at Camp Nou. That was in the summer of 2011, and during the winter break, the two shared some snaps of them jet-skiing in Miami. That, too, was supposed to be off-limits.
Pep, though a media-friendly coach, hoped his players would shun the spotlight and was concerned at Pique's priorities - especially as the defender was flouting the rules on his vacations. Gerard also incurred the wrath of his boss by allegedly leaving his car parked in a bus lane in central Barcelona with the door open ahead of a crucial Champions League trip to Bayer Leverkusen. On and off the pitch, he was becoming far too distracted.
It has since been reported that Guardiola hired private detectives to spy on the defender in a desperate attempt to learn the full extent of his off-field behavior and, in that final season under Pep, Pique played just 22 times in La Liga and only five games in the Champions League.
The defender made more appearances under Tito Vilanova in 2012-13 and is a regular for Gerardo Martino this season too, but has been blighted by a series of muscle injuries in the last few seasons and looks to have entered a disturbing decline at the tender age of 26. Slow and ungainly, the center back is now prone to making many more mistakes than in the past and has the dubious honor of having scored past his own team in each of the last two Champions League campaigns following Wednesday's own goal in the 3-1 win over AC Milan.
|RONALDO MAKES BALLON D'OR STATEMENT
- Sports & Recreation
- Gerard Pique
- Pep Guardiola