Between tears, Piqué says goodbye to Barcelona, defeats Almería 2-0

BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Gerard Piqué kept his composure until he began telling the 92,000 spectators how much he loved the club of his childhood.

Then, tears flowed uncontrollably for the 35-year-old Barcelona defender and multiple trophy winner as he realized he would never play for his home fans again.

Piqué played his last match at Camp Nou on Saturday, making his 616th appearance for Barcelona in a farewell match that was sweetened by a resounding 2-0 win over Almería that lifted the hosts to the top of the league. Spanish.

He was applauded after the first few touches he made and when he was substituted in the final minutes. He hugged each of his teammates and waved to the crowd, which gave him a standing ovation.

After giving a lap of honor in the largest football stadium in Europe, Piqué took a microphone to say that he plans to return to the club in the future, but not as a player. In the past, he has said that he might one day consider running for club president.

“In life, when you grow up, sometimes loving is letting go,” he said before breaking down.

“There is so much love, so much passion between Barça and me that it was time to give each other a space, an air, and I am convinced that in the future I will return. My grandfather made me a member of the club the day I was born. I was born here and I will die here. Long live Barça forever”.

Pique, world and European champion with Spain and a three-time Champions League winner with Barcelona, ​​made the unexpected announcement this week that this would be the last home game of his 14-year career with the Catalan club. He said that he would not play for any other team.

After Robert Lewandowski missed an early penalty, Ousmane Dembélé opened the scoring against the overmatched Almería in the 48th minute and Frenkie de Jong put the result out of doubt in the 62nd minute.

The victory put Barcelona two points ahead of Real Madrid before they play at Rayo Vallecano on Monday.

THE LEGACY OF PIQUE

A skilled passer and scorer from his central position, Piqué was part of Barcelona’s most storied teams alongside Lionel Messi, Andrés Iniesta and current coach Xavi Hernández. He helped Barcelona win 30 titles, including eight Spanish leagues and seven Copa del Rey crowns.

Pique scored 52 goals in his career with Barcelona and shares the record for the most Champions League goals scored by a defender with 16, along with former Real Madrid left-back Roberto Carlos.

In his youth, Piqué played with Messi and Cesc Fábregas as part of a golden generation of youngsters at Barcelona’s “La Masía” training academy. After a stint at Manchester United, he returned in 2008 and immediately became a starter with Carles Puyol at the heart of the defence. He then partnered over his long career with a number of centre-backs, including Javier Mascherano, Samuel Umtiti, Clement Lenglet and, more recently, Ronald Araújo and Éric García.

For Spain, he helped win the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012 before retiring from international football in 2018.

Pique was a favorite of Barcelona fans for his verbal criticism of fierce rival Real Madrid over the years.

But with the arrival of Jules Koundé, Andreas Christensen and Marcos Alonso this summer, Xavi relegated Piqué to a little-used substitute for the first time in his career.

“He leaves a very important legacy of leadership, courage and playing with character. It is what the colors of Barcelona need”, said Xavi. “Gerard was part of an extraordinary time, and our task is to try to live it again.”

Sergio Busquets, who is now the only remaining member of former coach Pep Guardiola’s top Barcelona teams, called Pique “an example of what a Barcelona player should be.”

While his teammates will miss him, his departure will help reduce the wage burden on the indebted club.

Pique can now focus on his business, which includes revamped Davis Cup tennis, and get his personal life in order after his recent breakup with pop star Shakira.

EASY VICTORY

Lewandowski finished off the outside of the penalty post in the seventh minute after Kaiky Fernándes saved a Ferran Torres header with his arm.

Dembélé finally broke through just after half time. He received a long ball from Busquets down the right flank, moved two defenders to the edge of the area and finished off the post.

De Jong finished off in the second after goalkeeper Fernando Martínez saved a point-blank shot from substitute Ansu Fati.

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