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Spain and Barça icon Piqué announces imminent retirement

Gerard Piqué has shocked the footballing world by announcing he will play his last match for Barcelona on Saturday. His career has been laden with silverware and glorious memories, along with controversy.

Spain and Barça icon Piqué announces imminent retirement
FC Barcelona's Gerard Piqué has announced his imminent retirement .(Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP)

The 35-year-old defender cut his contract short, with a year-and-a-half yet to run, announcing his impending retirement on Thursday.

Piqué will feature for the last time at Camp Nou against Almeria on Saturday, and is expected to travel for the game against Osasuna on Tuesday.

While his manager, Xavi Hernández, left the club in a blaze of glory after winning the treble alongside Piqué in 2015, the centre-back departs mid-season, following a humiliating Champions League elimination.

Out of favour, when Piqué has played his performances have come under scrutiny, and his sudden decision has been made to wrest control of the situation, preserving his dignity, before his reputation can degrade.

Despite glorious years in his prime, making a case for being the club’s best ever defender, winning three Champions Leagues, eight La Liga titles and seven Copas del Rey with Barca, recent seasons have seen him and the other veterans linked with repeated failures in Europe.

Most recently, a glaring Piqué error against Inter Milan cost the team a goal, with Barcelona drawing and virtually sealing their Champions League exit.

Supporters showed their anger with whistles when he came on against Villarreal and against Valencia he was mocked for not being ready to replace the injured Jules Koundé.

“For months they have talked about me and until now I haven’t said anything, but now I want to be the one to talk to you about myself,” Piqué said, taking charge.

Watch Piqué’s farewell video below:

Plenty to say

Piqué has never been shy of doing the talking, from wars of words with eternal rivals Real Madrid, neighbours Espanyol, and anyone else who got in his or Barcelona’s way, including Spanish media and even the club’s board.

Media-savvy and businessman with his fingers in many pies, including his own production company Kosmos, and revamping tennis’s Davis Cup, Piqué will be aware of the message he is sending by cutting short his fat contract, which was a problem for Barcelona.

“We are working on the resolution of his deal but there is a great disposition on the part of the player to help the club,” said president Joan Laporta.

“Gerard understands the financial fair play situation perfectly at Barcelona. The salary level needs to be lowered and Piqué is ready to help the club in this sense.”

It is a move certain to garner good will from supporters, which will be remembered in a future bid to become the club’s president, a goal of Piqué’s.

The noise around Piqué through his career helped grow his profile –- as did his former partner, Colombian pop-star Shakira -– but sometimes spoke louder than his immense quality as a defender.

Playing at Barcelona is particularly hard for centre-backs, with his coaches including Pep Guardiola, utilising incredibly high defensive lines.

It meant Piqué’s reading of the game had to be immaculate, along with his ability on the ball, starting attacks from the back. Often he ended them too, with 52 goals in 615 appearances for the club.

Piqué joined Barcelona at 10 years old but signed for Manchester United and made his professional debut there in 2004, winning a Champions League and Premier League double in 2008.

Guardiola gave him his Barcelona breakthrough after he returned that year, and he quickly became vital as the Catalans won the treble in the 2008-09 season.

Spain’s defender Gerard Pique (2ndL) hugs the trophy next to his Spain team mates a day after they won the 2010 FIFA football World Cup match against the Netherlands in Johannesburg.  (Photo by MIGUEL RIOPA / AFP)

Glittering career

Piqué also netted against Madrid in a famous 6-2 win at the Santiago Bernabeu in 2009, celebrating wildly to upset Los Blancos supporters for the first, but certainly not the last, time.

Spain, using many Barcelona players, including Piqué, won the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 Euros, concluding a golden era for La Roja on the international stage.

Piqué teamed up with Sergio Ramos, his Real Madrid nemesis, as they put their club rivalries to the side and created a formidable partnership.

There was time for another club treble first under Luis Enrique in 2015, with Piqué starting the season shakily, like Barcelona as a whole, but finding spectacular form by the end of the season.

As Barcelona added league titles but struggled in Europe, with big defeats by Roma, Liverpool and Bayern Munich among others, Piqué’s extra-curricular activities came under fire.

The defender also took flak for his production company making Antoine Griezmann’s documentary over whether to join Barcelona from Atletico, in which he snubbed the Catalans in 2018.

Despite good performances last season, this campaign has been painful. Off the pitch his partnership with Shakira collapsed, and on it, he was off the pace.

Xavi brought in Kounde and Andreas Christensen in the summer and Piqué dropped quickly out of favour.

Perhaps not for long though. In his goodbye video Piqué looked up at the presidential box and said: “Sooner or later, I’ll be back.”

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FOOTBALL

Spain thrash Costa Rica 7-0 in World Cup opener

Spain shredded Costa Rica 7-0 on Wednesday in a brutal destruction in their Group E opener which launched their bid to lift a second World Cup.

Spain thrash Costa Rica 7-0 in World Cup opener

Avoiding the fate of giants Argentina and group rivals Germany, who lost 2-1 to Japan earlier on, Luis Enrique’s fancied side sparkled at Doha’s Al Thumama Stadium, dominating possession and taking their chances mercilessly.

Ferran Torres netted twice and Marco Asensio, Dani Olmo, Gavi, Carlos Soler and Alvaro Morata were also on the scoresheet for the Euro 2020 semi-finalists in an emphatic romp.

In the past the 2010 World Cup winners have paid the price for profligacy, but all three forwards Luis Enrique selected netted in the first half to pay back his trust in them.

The coach placed Asensio at false nine, flanked by Olmo and Torres, starting with Morata and Ansu Fati on the bench.

READ ALSO: Where to watch the Qatar World Cup on TV in Spain

The coach opted to deploy Manchester City midfielder Rodri Hernandez in central defence, alongside club team-mate Aymeric Laporte, correctly anticipating his team would monopolise the ball.

It took only 11 minutes for La Roja to open the scoring, with Gavi stabbing a pass forward for Olmo to receive in the area and the RB Leipzig winger taking one sublime touch to turn and another to stroke the ball gently past Keylor Navas.

Costa Rica, who were a surprise package at the 2014 World Cup, beating Italy and Uruguay and drawing with England to top their group, were sliced apart again for the second goal 10 minutes later.

Jordi Alba’s low drilled cross was rammed home by Real Madrid forward Asensio past his former team-mate Navas, who might have done more to keep it out.

Torres stroked home from the penalty spot after Alba was fouled by Oscar Duarte –- a soft call on a hard night for Los Ticos, who were never in the game and failed to muster a shot at goal.

Barcelona forward Torres capitalised on more slack defending to fire the fourth past Navas early in the second half.

Luis Enrique was able to take off the effervescent Pedri and Torres before the hour mark in order to rest them for Sunday’s clash with Germany, and handed teenage Barcelona left-back Alejandro Balde his debut.

The 19-year-old roared up the pitch in the build-up to Spain’s fifth goal, with substitute Morata crossing for Gavi to drill home with aplomb.

Kopa Trophy winner Gavi became the third youngest goalscorer at a World Cup at 18 years and 110 days old, after Mexico’s Manuel Rosas and record holder Pele.

Soler and Morata then got in on the act with stoppage-time strikes to pile further misery on Costa Rica and help Spain flex their muscles in a perfect opening match in Qatar.

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