offpitch | 2016-12-03
La Vanguardia talks with Puyol and Piqué in an incredible interview
The Catalan newspaper sat down with the centre back duo to talk everything El Clásico to their childhoods
They do it every once in awhile. They call each other and decide to go out to eat snails and good meat at the welcoming restaurant El Caliu de Finestrelles, in Esplugues. Always at the same table. In the back, on the left. They're great friends. They were the best pair of central defenders in FC Barcelona’s history. Their kids (they have two each) are Barça members. This time they talk about their experiences with El Clásico, both as kids and as adults. They're both more than authorized to do so. They scored a goal each in that mythical 2-6. They are Carles Puyol and Gerard Piqué. And this time they're not alone. Joan Josep Pallàs from La Vanguardia joins them.
Q: What's your first memory of a Clásico?
Gerard Piqué: The 5-0 at the Camp Nou in 1994. I was 6 or 7 years old. I saw it in the stadium.
Carles Puyol: I didn't go to the stadium until I was 17, when I came to Barcelona from the mountains (laughs) when they signed me as a youth player. My first Clásico memory is seeing Amor’s goal at the Bernabeu on the TV.
Q: How were Puyol and Piqué as fans?
GP: I was calm, but I always had an older gentleman next to me that didn't stop screaming. From the first minute and in every game. Gabri was one of his main targets. The first bad pass and he'd go off. He had a bag with him and had a mustache. The typical fan. I suppose he let off some stress like this. I was a kid so I was afraid of him. I liked to watch the game calmly, to think about it, analyze it, be focused. I've always been like this. I never got too excited.
CP: I was more of a screamer. And I also cursed occasionally. I get very nervous. I sometimes argued with Barça fans. “What you have to do is support the team, not complain,” I'd tell them. Now I haven't been at the stadium in some time. Not since I retired. But my mentality as a fan as changed.
Q: Who was your favorite player at the time?
GP: Stoichkov was my Idol. Then Ronaldo.
CP: Nadal was a beast.
Q: And did you dislike a Madrid player?
GP: Hierro, because he used to elbow people, but at the same time I felt admiration for him because he defended his club. Now that you ask, Mijatovic… On the other hand you could see that Seedorf was a good guy.
Q: Do you remember the marking that your friend Puyol did to Figo?
GP: It's impossible to forget it. The environment was imposing, almost scary. They had a better team, but we won 2-0. Carles didn't let him touch the ball. He was a terrible bulldog. He got one chance, took a shot and the whole stadium sighed at the same time.
CP: No one has experienced that environment. It affected the whole Madrid team, not just Figo. It was spectacular. We couldn't hear the referee. I was so set on my job that when Figo went to the sideline to talk to Del Bosque I went with him. (laughs) At the start of that week Pep told me “you just focus on the Portuguese”. The press thought Reiziger would play.
Q: When did Puyol and Piqué first meet?
GP: At the Nike offices. I was playing for Zaragoza and these guys had just won the Champions League (2006). Carles had had a cup of champagne and was hungover. (laughs) “This one can't take anything,” I thought to myself.
CP: I used to take very good care of myself. I never drank. I also remember that day.
GP: I was a nobody. And we only crossed paths for a moment.
CP: Before meeting you I remember having seen you play right back for Zaragoza against Real Madrid.
GP: And what did you think? “Look at that big crane!” (laughs) I held my own against Reyes, but when they put Robinho there… We lost 1-0.
CP: Well I think you played well, because you were smart and knew how to position yourself.
GP: In those days I used to wear the shirt collars up. I thought I was Maradona. (laughs)
Q: When you met in Barça's first team you got along fast…
CP: The bond between us formed quickly. We were different, but very complementary.
GP: Honestly we could have played together for more years, but this guy didn't last. (laughs)
CP: I had to cover for you so many times when you went up to attack that it wore me out. You were the young one, it should have been the other way around.
Q: Do you have any regrets about not lasting longer?
CP: The other day I heard someone comparing us to the Baresi-Costacurta pair, they were saying that we were the best along with them. I'm proud of that. The knee injury was bad luck, otherwise I'd still be playing.
GP: You like saying that. You should be playing the Catalunya-Tunisia game on the 28th, I've already told you.
CP: We could have played together more. I enjoyed it a lot. It was a spectacular era. We had fun on the pitch and off it.
Q: Who influenced the other more, on all levels?
CP: I changed. I was very closed off, radical, I thought about football 24 hours and he made me see that things could be different.
GP: I saw that his mood was down. And I used to tell him: “Come on, man, come party with us one day.” He got up the courage, came out with us two days and, given the fact that everyone knew him, a rumor started that Puyol was going out all the time. I was still relatively unknown at the time so I could pass under the radar, it was my first year, but him, with that hair… He never went out again.
CP: I was coming from a very bad period. My dad had died in 2006, in 2007 a 10 year relationship ended. And at Barça, with one of the best teams in history, we didn't manage to have continuity… and I was the captain. Then we won the Euros with the national team and when I came back I met Mr. Gerard Piqué.
Q: And on the pitch?
GP: I live more calmly now (laughs), without this guy always yelling. It's a pleasure.
CP: I think that a defenders priority is to defend. And if we're winning 4-0 for me it's more important to not let them score than to score one more. And we have forwards for that stuff anyway.
GP: I think that with a 4-0 a defender has the right to enjoy himself.
CP: I enjoyed defending.
GP: I learned to enjoy it through the years. I didn't use to like it at all. I also didn't like to train.
CP: I loved it. He didn't, but he had good skills and he has improved. And he has another vital quality that I've always defended, even among teammates: the two most competitive people in the game are Leo and Gerard. They always want to win and they never hide. Never. And that's something you either have or you don't.
Q: Any memorable advice?
GP: Winning 5-0, he used to tell me “Don't think about the party, not yet.”
CP: (to the journalist) Don't write that.
GP: Doesn't matter, Carles, it's been like ten years already. I was 21. Going out after a win was basic. Now I haven't been to a club in seven months. Everything changes when you have a family.
CP: Gerard was born under a lucky start.
GP: I know. I'm privileged and I enjoy it a lot. I always go to the limit. It's when I enjoy things the most. In all aspects of life. And it's gone well for me. I know that it's also hurt me in some ways. Like what? Well, for example, not being Barça's captain. A captain has to be exemplary and I am in some things, but not in all. I'd like to be captain, but I don't dwell on it. I'd have to change and I'm fine as I am.
CP: But Gerard is a leader in his way. He's a captain without an armband. He has fun, enjoys it and that's super important. When you're the captain you have to speak for everyone.
GP: The ideal thing would have been a mix between both of us, but seeing as how that doesn't exist, the best thing is the two of us together and that's that.
Q: Talk to me about the 2-6 at the Bernabeu. You each scored a goal.
CP: It was the perfect game for us.
GP: And in the 0-4 I almost scored the fifth.
CP: It's better that you didn't.
GP: What a comment. Typical culer. Yeah, because Piqué would have shown off too much after…
CP: What would you have done?
GP: A manita gesture, I suppose.
Q: And the celebration of your goal in the 2-6. Luis Enrique style…
GP: I didn't expect to score. I celebrated it by showing the colors of our shirt. It's down to the lucky star we were talking about earlier, it's intangible.
Q: Your kiss of the armband is an iconic image.
CP: A lot of people remember me with that image. It was dedicated to the fans. I had thought about doing something with the armband and the kiss just happened, it's not what I had in mind. I have that photo in my office at home.
Q: The Clásico has a lot of political connotations…
CP: I was criticized for ridiculous things. Gerard also was for barely saying anything. He was at the Diada and he has spoken in favor of the right to decide. I have too. Nothing else.
GP: A lot of people have said the same and nothing happened.
CP: If there's an issue, if there are two million people out in the street, what do we do? Do we just ignore that? There has to be a dialogue.
Q: Do you remember an especially bad moment?
GP: Carles s knee injury. He was miserable. Carles, I have to say this. This has to be the headline of the interview. (laughs) I was coming back from an injury and I was training alone and one day I joined him and Juanjo (Brau) for some series of very demanding exercises. I never saw anything like it. Puyi always had the image of invincible, of withstanding anything and that day I outlasted him. Publicly you've never seen him like that, groggy, disfigured. “I can't do it anymore,” he told me. I was almost ready to retire that day. I could have said I'd already seen everything. (laughs)
Q: Let's talk about Messi. What more can you say about his influence in Clásicos?
CP: It's not just the Clásicos. It's in every game. I think he's matured in the last three years.
GP: He understood what the team needed. He's involved in everything. He's generous, he has every quality.
Q: Will he renew?
GP: Yes, he knows that he won't feel better in any other place than here.
CP: I agree. This is the best place. It's his home, everyone loves him.
Q: What does Messi do in the dressing room after one of his exhibition games?
CP: He's on his phone, like everyone.
GP: You get the ball with which he has scored a hattrick, you write “on to the next one, Leo” and that's that. (laughs) Given his importance, Leo is very natural.
CP: He likes playing football and that's that. It's as simple as that.
GP: The nicest thing is to be normal.
Q: And Cristiano Ronaldo? Is he the most difficult guy to stop?
GP: He has an incredible goal scoring instinct even when physically he's not ok. It's innate. And he's very competitive, he's a machine that always wants to improve, even though now he takes less part in the buildup.
CP: He's not the most difficult guy I had to defend. That was Leo in trainings. And Henry, Drogba… because of their characteristics.
Anything wrong? Send your correction.
WRITTEN BY: Diana Uzum
Barcelona fan since the days of Kluivert and Rivaldo. Been here for the good, the bad and the ugly.