Tim Stannard on why Barcelona and Spain's centre-back is not so hot in his homeland right now...
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All too often, the Powers That Be are a mean, uncharitable bunch.
For example, the richest participants of the sporting world grow even richer by not having to pay for anything, ever, while the rest of us meek types scramble about in the metaphorical dirt for metaphorical crumbs.
However, there is occasionally some kind of negative pay-off to great sporting talent. Jordan Spieth was handed the personality of a sponge. Wayne Rooney suffered hair loss and was cursed with a permanent scowl. And now Gerard Pique has had some kind of retribution for playing for Barcelona, looking like a hot dish of smut, winning the World Cup and being shacked up with Shakira.
That payback is having most of the population of Spain apparently hating his guts. The Barça player was booed throughout Spain’s Euro 2016 qualifying win over Slovakia in Oviedo on Saturday, to partner the jeers suffered after a June friendly with Costa Rica.
Poor Pique was then barracked by night-timers when some of the players had an evening out in Gijon after the Slovakia match.
Vicente del Bosque and many of the players have come out and said that this kind of business needs to desist forthwith, although Iker Casillas was a little more cryptic saying that “we’ll try and fix whatever Pique is doing wrong”.
One of those things that Pique is apparently doing wrong is going to be hard to remedy, and that’s playing for Barcelona.
Most of Spain’s friendlies are played in parts of the country that are relative strongholds in terms of Real Madrid support. A good chunk of supporters in Oviedo would follow their home town, but also have Madrid as a second team. However, that doesn’t explain entirely why there is such animosity against Pique considering the likes of Jordi Alba, Pedro and Sergi Busquets are left relatively alone. Indeed, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez always received a warm hand on their entrance.
The hardcore Barcelona camp will say that the animosity is driven by a combination of Pique’s strong views in support of Catalan independency and pure jealousy, all controlled by evil types in the Spanish capital. “There is a campaign against Gerard Pique, led by the most rancid media in Madrid,” bawled Lluis Mascaro in Monday’s Sport. However, Carles Puyol was also a vocal advocate of the Catalan cause and never really received too much bother. The real problem with Pique is that sometimes the defender is a bit of a tool.
Over the years, the footballer has allowed his more gobby persona out and about. In 2010, this was quite literal when Pique decided it would be fun to spit on a member of Spain’s backroom staff during open-top bus celebrations in Madrid upon their triumphant return from South Africa.
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Add to that a recent ‘do you know who I am’ run-in with the Po-Po after parking illegally outside of a nightclub, yelling abuse at an assistant referee during the Spanish Super Cup clash with Athletic Bilbao and basically telling the Madrid supporters to go forth and multiply after the UEFA Super Cup, the latest in a long line of taunts towards the agents of Mordor.
Now all this is fine and good, and very much endorsed by LLL, which feels Pique fills the Guti void nicely. However, the rest of Spain's supporters more than have the right to take a more hostile vocal position against Pique. This situation might have reached a crescendo in November during a Madrid friendly against England; a game that was due to take place at the Bernabeu but has now been switched to Alicante.
Gerard Pique has fallen foul of a number of ills – playing for Barcelona, leading a glamorous life, being passionate about his club and country and also looking for (and finding) trouble. Thrown in the Powers That Be balancing out the universe and it is easy to see why Pique has become Mr UnPopular in Spain.