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Almost 11 years ago now Gerard Piqué left Old Trafford to return to his boyhood club. In the summer of 2008 the Catalan centre back left behind the club that had been his home since 2004 to come back to Camp Nou and help the Club to record the most successful period in its history. Now, some 4,104 days since his final appearance in a Barça shirt (13 April 2008, a 2-1 win over Arsenal ), Piqué returns to the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ to come face to face with his past.
Nevertheless, the current Manchester United squad bears little resemblance to the one he left behind. Many of the club legends with whom he shared a dressing room between 2004 and 2008 have now retired. The likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Gary Neville and Roy Keane have long since hung up their boots and legendary coach Alex Ferguson, the man who gave Piqué his debut in professional football, is also retired.
Other team mates are still playing but now far from Manchester such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tévez. More former team mates can be found amongst the United coaching staff, principally the new boss Ole Gunnar Solskjær and his assistant Michael Carrick.
“I am returning to my second home”
“I am returning to my second home.” That is how Gerard Piqué reacted to the draw on social media that saw Manchester United and Barça paired together in the Champions League. The centre back has always maintained the importance of his experience in English Football, and of playing under Sir Alex Ferguson. In an interview for ‘The Players Tribune’ Piqué elaborated: “I was in difficult situation and my life could have been very different if it had not been for Ferguson. I arrived at Manchester United as a teenager and I left a man. It was a tricky time for me, lots of changes, as I had never been away from home before.”
“Sir Alex Ferguson was really good with me right from the off,” remembers Piqué. “The best coaches have that quality: even when they don’t play you or they are strict with you, they believe in you and think that you are important. Sir Alex was like a second father to me. He made me work hard and in the end he gave me a chance.” When it came to leaving and his decision to return to Barça, Pique felt that the Scottish manger no longer had faith in him. The two men sat down and in the words of the defender, “spoke for a while and in the end I was so honest that he allowed me to leave at the end of the season.”
“Ferguson was like second father to me”“Gerard Piqué
Roy Keane story
During his time at Manchester, Piqué’s experiences helped him develop as a professional. In the interview in The Players Tribune he explains one such anecdote from his spell at Old Trafford.
Piqué recalls: “It was one of my first games at Old Trafford and I remember I was in the dressing room waiting for the manager to come in to give his team talk. I was sat next to Roy Keane and there was silence. All of a sudden, you could hear something vibrating and Roy started to look around. I realised that it was my mobile phone…Roy didn’t know where the noise was coming from. He couldn’t find the phone and he started to look around the dressing room like a madman. He shouted three times “Whose phone is that?” until I said as sheepishly as I could, “Sorry, it’s mine…” Roy went nuts right in front of everyone. It was incredible, I was so scared. However, it was an important lesson. Now it’s different, all the lads look at their iPhones before the game. Yet, back in 2006 it was another world. It was impossible to do it. Especially at United, not in Roy’s dressing room and it was one of many mistakes I made when I was there.”
23 games, two goals and four trophies
At the start of his professional career, Piqué did not make too many starts as a ‘Red Devil’. However, he did make 23 appearances for Manchester United during his four year spell, which included a year on loan at Real Zaragoza, scoring two goals.
Both his goals came in the same season, 2007/08, and both came in the same competition; the Champions League. That season Piqué and United would claim the title, beating fellow Premier League club Chelsea on penalties in the final, the first of his four victories in the competition (two of his three Champions League victories with Barça came against United in the final). It was not the only trophy won by the centre back during his time in England as he also claimed a Premier League title (2008), a Community Shield (2007) and a League Cup (2006).
Piqué returns to his ‘second home’ as one of the best centre halves in the world and as one of the players with most trophies over the last 10 years having won pretty everything there is to win for club and country; 35 in total, 28 with Barça, four with United and three with the Spanish National Team. Spectacular statistics for the 32 year old who is in the best form of his career at the moment in which he faces his former club in the Champions League quarter finals.
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