Xavi: “Piqué is retiring at the right moment”
Xavi spoke before Saturday’s game between Barcelona and Almería and insisted that Gerard Piqué decision to retire was made by the defender himself
How is the team dealing with Piqué departure?
“We’re focusing on tomorrow’s game and taking the three points to put a little more pressure on Real Madrid. Of course, we’ll also be affected by Gerard’s departure. He deserves all the praise he gets from the Barcelona fans. He’s had an incredible career, which he’s decided to bring to an end. I understand what he’s been up against. He hasn’t been playing much and feels less important, less useful to the team, so it’s normal to take this step back. He’s showing his greatness by stepping away. He deserves all the praise he gets and for the Barcelona fans to honour him for what he is, a club legend. It’s an extra motivation for tomorrow. I hope everyone cheers him on and applauds him. He deserves it after the unbelievable career that he’s had. We have to make sure tomorrow is a special day for the club. Without him, Barça loses leadership and commitment. He’s one of the best central defenders in the history of the sport. I don’t want to disrespect Migueli or Carles Puyol, but he’s clearly one of the best.”
Retirement conversation in the summer
“We had a conversation before the season started, which will obviously remain private. It was one of the most difficult days of my coaching career. And this is a difficult time. He’s been a teammate of mine and I hold him in such high regard. But this happens to all of us. It’s difficult to manage. For him to retire is an act of nobility, both as a person and as a player.”
How much influence did you have in Piqué decision?
“A lot, I’m sure. But these are decisions that I have to make for the good of the club. I’ve looked at what’s best for the team. That’s how hard it is. I’ve really suffered because I hold him in such high regard. It’s not easy. And that’s why I tell you that coaching Barça is a thankless task, but I have to look out for the good of the club.”
Will he start tomorrow?
Do you think you’ve been fair with him?
“I don’t know if I’ve been fair but I’ve been sincere and honest. His behaviour has been exemplary but I was honest with him and the circumstances have led to him making the decision to stop. And I’ve got the feeling that he’s done it at the right moment. He’s a winner and he’ll be a winner wherever he goes.”
What are his strengths and weaknesses?
“I’d prefer to talk about his strengths. He’s brave, competitive, a winner. He doesn’t have any complexes or fears. He’s intelligent. His intellectual capacity is well above average. He’s been a good teammate and a good captain since I’ve been here. I can have no complaints. This is simply a footballing issue. It’s nothing personal, just football.”
Will he play against Osasuna (on Tuesday 8 November)?
“In theory, he’ll be available for selection for the game against Osasuna.”
In his retirement video, Piqué said he’d be back at Barcelona in the future. Could you imagine him as president?
“Gerard can be whoever he wants to be because of his personality and leadership. He has more than enough skills, without doubt.”
Is it a relief that he’s leaving?
“Yes. I don’t have any issue with Gerard. What I mean is that he’s not shown any signs of being unhappy, he’s done everything we’ve asked. He’s been fully committed when he’s played. It’s his own decision.”
Is it true that in the conversation you had with him, you suggested that the best thing for him to do was to stop? Did that affect your relationship with him?
“I’ve tried to be honest. In the end, a soccer player always thinks the coach is to blame if he doesn’t play. These are difficult things to accept but it’s part of the job. The conversation I had with him is private. I won’t be the one who talks about it.”
Is signing a left-sided centre-back a priority now?
“We’ll see, maybe. We’ll see what our priorities are. We’ve got some time so I’ll make plans with Mateu (Alemany), the president and Jordi Cruyff.”
When did you find out Piqué was leaving and did the club know about it?
“You find out about it because this club is like a family. But he’s the one who made the decision. That’s clear, it’s his decision, his life and his career and whatever decision he makes is 100% respected. He has earned the right to choose what he wants to do and when.”
Do you think your relationship with him has worsened?
“Our relationship is the same as it was before. We don’t have a bad relationship. I have to make decisions for the good of the team and the club. When you don’t put someone who used to be so important in the starting line-up, it doesn’t go down well. But our relationship hasn’t worsened.”
Busquets is the only remaining member of the legendary Barcelona side. Does it make you nostalgic about the generation of players coming towards the end?
“Yes, but that’s a fact of life. Hopefully we can have a new generation of players that will bring us a lot of success. But it’s sad when you see players, teammates, even friends who are calling it a day. It makes you sad and nostalgic, but we’ve all been there.”
At what point did you realise you’d have to handle the transition away from those leaders?
“In the end, you have to make decisions that aren’t nice to make as a coach or as a person. But we’re here for the good of the club. Sometimes you have to make drastic decisions that nobody likes. Sometimes it’s a thankless task, but it’s part of the job. Circumstances bring about these decisions. The leaders in the dressing room have helped us a lot. And if Piqué has to play tomorrow, he’ll help us.”
Have you been able to speak to Piqué?
“He’s relaxed, he’s fine, he’s calm. I’ve also spoken to the team.”
Almería have the worst away record in LaLiga. What’s the plan?
“We know that Rubi is a great coach. He knows how we work and he’s got a couple of different systems that he uses. We’ve analysed them and they’ve got a good midfield, with pace in attack. They transition between defence and attack quickly, their central defenders are aggressive. I’m sure they’ll make it tough for us.”