We’re footballers but we’re people too. Why can a journalist or a mechanic express themselves but not a footballer?”
Gerard Pique stands in a small club at present; a footballer comfortable and willing to speak his mind even in the midst of such anger towards him. Whatever your views, it’s difficult not to be impressed with how Pique conducted himself in the wake of events in
Catalonia and subsequent fallout.
As the most outspoken high-profile figure within Catalonia’s strive for a referendum and independence, Pique has become a lightning rod for those in disagreement.
He is routinely booed, cheered, mocked and insulted at Spain games and rival stadiums when playing for Barcelona over the years but has forever stuck to his message and what he believes in, for his city and his region.
It would be easy to keep his thoughts to himself, retreat into a carefully-managed PR bubble and the comfortable lifestyle of being a multi-millionaire footballer.
Except the issue is bigger than that, and Pique has shown himself to perhaps be a greater statesman than he is a defender.
He spoke emotionally and honestly after Barcelona’s bizarre 3-0 victory over Las Palmas, played behind closed doors at the Camp Nou due to the violence that had occurred in the city as Spanish police attacked protesters.
Dumbfounded at what had happened in his city, he didn’t need to say anything but felt he had to.
And now as the issue has been magnified in a sporting sense with the Spanish national team convening for two World Cup qualifiers, he felt the need to speak again.
Pre-match press conferences are, in the main, totally unremarkable. Players and managers sit for 10-15 minutes, mostly answering variations of questions they’ve heard several times before.
Most of the time the subjects at the table want to get away as quickly as possible. But in Pique’s case, upon sitting down he said, “I will answer all your question and stay here as long as it takes.”
Whether or not he got his message fully across – his love of Catalonia but also a loyalty to La Roja and pride of performing for Spain alongside his team-mates – will be witnessed at the Estadio Jose Rico Perez in Alicante on Friday night.
But jeering sportspeople with opinions is particularly pertinent with what has occurred in the NFL with players following Colin Kaepernick and taking the knee.
Ja he votat. Junts som imparables defensant la democràcia. pic.twitter.com/mGXf7Qj1TM
— Gerard Piqué (@3gerardpique) October 1, 2017
It’s clear is there are considerable sections of fans uncomfortable with those who they seek entertainment from doing anything beyond, “what they’re paid to do.”
We’re content liking banal Twitter posts, scrolling through tedious Instagram images and watching the daily deja vu of post-event TV interviews, cluttered with cliches.
But anything presented of substance, or off-message seems alien. Surely the sporting world is a richer one when the individuals who inhabit it are exactly that; singular minds capable of thinking for themselves, even if you agree with them or not. Muhammad Ali’s greatness is carved by as much as what he said, as it is what he did inside the ring.
The increasingly corporate blanket cast over professional sport limits how much we truly know about those who entertain us and we idolise. We’re presented an idea, a glossy representation but, in truth, is rarely accurate.
Pique is one of the few willing to show their actual personality. It should be applauded, not derided.
Barcelona will join a strike called across Catalonia on Tuesday in protest at a violent crackdown by police of an independence referendum called by pro-separatist politicians for the region on Sunday.
“FC Barcelona joins the country wide strike called for by Table for Democracy and therefore the club will be closed tomorrow,” Barca said in a statement on Monday.
“None of the professional teams or the youth teams at FC Barcelona will train tomorrow.”
Clashes as police fired rubber bullets and forced their way into polling stations, often violently removing activists, to confiscate ballots left at least 92 people confirmed injured out of a total of 844 who needed medical attention, according to Catalan authorities.
“We strongly condemn the violence carried out by the state’s security forces to impede the October 1 referendum,” said a 44-strong group of organisations, including leading unions, in calling the strike.
In light of the incidents, Barca played their match against Las Palmas behind closed doors on Sunday.
Barca president Josep Maria Bartomeu said the club made the decision as a protest against the violent clashes rather than security concerns.
The vast majority of Barcelona’s stars, including five-time World Player of the Year Lionel Messi and Gerard Pique, who has been an outspoken defender of Catalonia’s right to self-determination, wouldn’t have trained with Barca on Tuesday in any case as they are on international duty with their respective nations.
FC Barcelona joins the country wide strike called for by Table for Democracy and therefore the Club will be closed tomorrow.
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) October 2, 2017
Provided by AFP Sport
Lionel Messi struck twice as Barcelona beat Las Palmas 3-0 in a match overshadowed by politics at a deserted Nou Camp.
The LaLiga clash was played behind closed doors after Barca’s request for it to be postponed amid local unrest during the Catalonia independence referendum was rejected.
Struggling Las Palmas, with Pako Ayestaran in charge for the first time, initially responded well to the unusual situation and hit the post in the first half but leaders Barca eventually took control.
Sergio Busquets broke the deadlock after the break and Messi secured Barca’s seventh win from seven games with two typically well-taken finishes.
“Game on. Behind close doors… such a surreal afternoon.” – Respected Spanish football journalist Guillem Balague tries to make sense of the situation.
Game on. Behind close doors… such a surreal afternoon.
— Guillem Balague (@GuillemBalague) October 1, 2017
Messi. Las Palmas played some enterprising football at times and Oussama Tannane was a particular threat but Barca stepped up the pressure after the break. Messi had some frustrating moments, missing the target with two gilt-edged opportunities and having two free-kicks kept out by Leandro Chichizola – but he could not be kept out of the game.
The manner with which he took his first goal, calmly swerving around the goalkeeper to tap in, underlined his enduring class and he quickly followed up with another.
Confusion reigned ahead of the game as it seemed it would be called off amid chaotic scenes around Catalonia. It was only 20 minutes before the scheduled kick-off that confirmation came that it would go ahead. The lack of fans made for an unusual atmosphere but prevented the game becoming a focal point for any large-scale demonstrations – although one lone protester did get onto the field from somewhere in the second half.
The players were at the heart of the issues themselves, with Barca coming out for the game in the colours of the Catalonia flag and Las Palmas having Spain flags embroidered into their shirts.
Ernesto Valverde will be pleased with the three points from this given all the disruption he and his squad had to deal with. Had they failed to come away with the win – and Las Palmas did give them some awkward moments in the first half – the refusal of authorities to grant Barcelona’s request for a postponement would have become an even bigger issue.
For Ayestaran, this was also a very difficult afternoon but he can be pleased with the way his players responded to the issues around them. Some of their play, at times, was not that of a struggling side. The new manager should be confident of lifting them away from the bottom.
Marc-Andre ter Stegen: 6 (Out of 10)
Sergi Roberto: 6
Gerard Pique: 6
Javier Mascherano: 6
Jordi Alba: 6
Aleix Vidal: 6
Sergio Busquets: 7
Lionel Messi: 8
Luis Suarez: 7
Denis Suarez: 7
Ivan Rakitic (for Paulinho, 45): 7
Andres Iniesta (for Vidal, 45): 7
Andre Gomes (for Iniesta, 84): 6
Leandro Chichizola: 6
Michel Macedo: 7
Ximo Navarro: 6
Mauricio Lemos: 6
Borja Herrera: 6
Alberto Aquilani: 6
Jonathan Viera: 6
Oussama Tannane: 7
Jonathan Calleri: 7
Vicente Gomez (for Hernan, 78): 5
Hernan Toledo (for Tana, 78): 5
Atletico Madrid v Barcelona (LaLiga, October 14)
Las Palmas v Celta Vigo (LaLiga, October 16)