Gerard Piqué is starting his ninth season as an FC Barcelona player. One of the two days off from training that Luis Enrique had given the squad, he entered the European Poker Tour tournament in Barcelona (finishing third out of 120 contestants) and he took some time to talk to Mundo Deportivo and Marca about the upcoming season.

How do you feel after a month of vacation?

We had a week more than what we had in other years and resting, disconnecting, and recuperating strength for the very long season ahead have been very good.

And you also didn’t have a summer tour this time…

Yes, and that’s noticeable because you can prepare better physically and you don’t deal with jet lag or the unbearable heat of when you go to Asia or the US.

Can the results be observed already in this start of the season?

Well, it’s always important to start off winning and winning the Super Cup was one of our first objectives.

And the rest of the objectives?

We have the obligation to try and win all the trophies, because we’re Barça. Let’s hope it’s a great year.

Last year you missed out on the Champions League, is that the main obsession now?

It’s a very important competition and it has the most prestige, but we’ve won the League and Cup two years in a row and we’ve heftily proven that we’re the best team in this country by far. The double hadn’t been repeated in years and that means that right now we’re the team to beat. We have to keep going this way.

And with the same style?

That’s a given, I have no doubts and I don’t even think about playing another way after everything we’ve won.

To help win these trophies you’re going to have some new teammates now…

Yes, young players have come in and they bring a lot of excitement and they’re here to compete for a spot and so the coach has more options for each position. This is good for two reasons. First, in case of injuries, but it’s also good to have a bigger competition between the players and thus increase our level.

You’ve formed a partnership with Puyol and Mascherano. Will Umtiti be the next one by your side?

He’s a great player, young, and has a lot of desire, but there’s a lot of good players in that position… There’s him, Jérémy (Mathieu), Masche and me… Knowing the coach I know that all four of us will play.

The defense has been a vital part of achieving the last trophies.

It’s important to concede only a few goals, keeping as many clean sheets as possible is the key to winning trophies.

Luis Enrique said that this was the best squad of the last years, do you agree?

The squad this season has a great level, it’s difficult to compare because there are different moments and situations. Footballers go through different stages, I don’t know if this squad is the best, but I can assure you that it’s very competitive and has a great level. We’ll try to win trophies like we’ve done in the last two years in which we’ve had the fortune of winning a lot with Luis Enrique. It’s a challenge.

Another new thing this season is the “Support Space” in the Camp Nou, did you notice its presence against Betis?

The truth is that there was a different sound, the people there were chanting and in some moments the rest of the stadium joined in and that’s very positive. We hope that this initiative continues and that we have more and more people chanting there.

One of the usual chants is “Piqué, Piquenbauer”, what do you feel when you hear that?

As every player, I enjoy that my work and career are being recognized and that people see that you try to give everything to get the results. Having people by your side is something that gives you a lot of pleasure.

And how are Milan and Sasha experiencing the fact that their father is playing for Barça?

Sasha is still too young, but Milan is obsessed with football. He knows the numbers of the players, the shirts of the clubs… Everything. He reminds me of myself when I was a kid. He lives football with a lot of passion and at the age of 3 he spends the whole 90 minutes completely hooked. I feel proud that my son likes football the same way I do.

What kind of things does he ask you?

When we don’t win the most frequent question is why we didn’t win. He doesn’t understand a Barça that loses, but that’s something that happens to a lot of the people in these new generations of culés. He also asks me things about the rules of the game, like a penalty, fouls or corners.

Have you already forgotten the idea of retiring at 30?

I’m trying to adapt my play to move as little as possible and thus be able to last more (laughs). Seriously though, I’ll try to last until my body or my mind say enough, I feel very comfortable and right now I plan on being here for a lot of years.

Let’s speak about some of your teammates. Leo Messi has returned from vacation in great shape.

I suppose he took care of himself, like we all do. He’s coming after a setback with the national team and I assume he will have an even bigger desire to win trophies.

What about Neymar? Does winning the gold medal in Rio take some pressure off him?

Playing at home involves the pressure of winning, but Ney is used to that. He has shown why he’s one of the best players in the world scoring the goal in the final and then the decisive penalty. I’m sure he’ll return to Barcelona very happy and with a lot of desire.

But he will return later. Has he earned that?

He has earned this small break and rest after a very difficult competition in which they didn’t start off very well and they had to work hard to win it. Plus, he had games with the senior national team coming, so this was a very good decision.

When Ney returns maybe the famous fourth forward will already be here. Isn’t this signing taking too long? Are the forwards who are linked to Barça afraid of being on the bench because of the attacking trident?

I don’t think there’s a fear of being on the bench, I don’t see it that way. We’re in a transfer window and in the end transfers are like poker, Barça has its cards and it doesn’t want to show them, it's keeping them secret until things are clear. I don’t know if they want to come or not, but I’m sure that we’ll have the best option for the forward line if there’s a signing, because Munir is also performing very well.

There’s a rumor about Madrid signing your friend Cesc.

If he was to go to Madrid – which I don’t know because I haven’t talked to him, it would be his decision, I wouldn’t stop being his friend because of that. We’ve had a relationship for a lot of years and we would continue being just as close are we are now.

Are you going to miss Bravo?

These are decisions that the club makes with the goal of having a more competitive squad. If this happens it’s because they think that this is the best option for the goalkeeping spot. We’re here to try and win trophies with what we have.

What do you think of City signing John Stones?

Stones is a great player, the best center back that England has. I like how he plays, he has a style similar to mine. It’s difficult to do this well there, because they play in a different way. Pep will help him a lot to learn to take risks with the ball. This is also like poker, where there are moments when you have to take risks. But being a defender you have to control that risk a lot. I think he will do well.

You played for Manchester United, but Guardiola is now at City. Who will you support?

Between Pep and United I chose the latter. I lived some good years there and I’ve always thought of it as my second home. I’ll always be a Red Devil. Pep’s presence in the Premier League will increase its level. But I also have to admit that I’ll follow City fondly because there are more people that I know there, not just Pep, like Txiki (Begiristain), who helped me a lot with the transfer to Barcelona and teammates from the national team, like Navas or Silva. I will experience this as another fan who enjoys the Premier League, a competition that I like following.

Will you follow it while playing poker?

Maybe, it’s a hobby for me. Other players like golf, or PlayStation games, I like poker, because you compete and there’s a difference facet and I get disconnected from the whirlwind of football.

How was that pádel game against Puyol?

(Laughs) It had been more than a year since I had touched a racket and the truth is that he crushed me, but it’s ok, we’ll try to be competitive and I’m preparing myself for the rematch.

What would you single out of the first round of the league?

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of goals scored. Madrid’s win at the Anoeta was logical, it’s a big club who is always obligated to win, this didn’t surprise me. We’re still in the first round, there are still players that haven’t fully adapted, some are more physically fit than others, and that leads to surprises.

What do you expect from Lopetegui as a national team coach?

He’s a young coach who comes with a lot of excitement. I’ve talked to him and the feeling is good because he proposes a beautiful football, he intends to have the ball and press high. And we have a great team, the level is very high. I’m looking forward to going to the national team and knowing more about his plans.

Is it difficult to replace Del Bosque because of everything he meant?

It’s like with everything, someone has to take the job and he was brave enough to accept a responsibility that meant being Del Bosque’s replacement. At high level clubs or national teams a lot of trophies are won and that means the incoming coaches have to deal with the pressure of winning again, but if you’re in this world you’re used to it.

Did you follow the Olympics? What Spanish medal made you more emotional?

I was able to follow a lot of the events in the Olympics and honestly all the medals made me emotional. From Mireia’s first one, winning by some milliseconds and who I watched from bed with Shakira sleeping next to me. Then the silver medal of the girls and the bronze medal of the guys in basketball, winning it in the last second by one point… Ruth Beitia’s story was also very emotional… I think this was a very good edition of the Olympics for Spain. Since the ’92 edition in Barcelona there has been a change in Spanish sport. This is being maintained and I hope that new talents keep geting more investments so that we can compete with the best nations. I’m not saying the US, but the level where Great Britain or France is. Hopefully in the future we can get in that group.

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