On Sunday, Gerard Pique notched his 500th appearance for Barcelona in the club’s 5-2 win over Real Betis. In the aftermath of that win, he came second in a local High Roller poker tournament at the Casino of Barcelona, winning €352,950.
So, yeah, not a bad bank holiday. And it’s about to get a whole lot better for the Catalonian. For right now, right here, I shall put forward his case for being the defining central defender of the decade.
Gerard Pique has played 500 times for Barcelona! ??
? 29 titles
? 360 wins
? 90 draws
? 50 defeats
?? 46 goals
Legend of the game! ? pic.twitter.com/XzIDYIotUo
— 90min (@90min_Football) August 27, 2019
Now, there are a myriad of places from which you can start to build your case for such a title, but trophies seems like both the most 2019 and most logical (which is good going for 2019). And it is a strong foundation, considering Senor Gerard’s 34 major trophies. That’s the most of any central defender, ever.
For context, that’s 11 more than Pique’s compatriot-come-rival Sergio Ramos, who, at a year older than GP, is stuck on an embarrassing 23.
That brings us nicely to the second place – and it’s essentially a building block, an add-on to the original statement – from which to build this edifice, to craft this statue of honour in the name of Shakira’s husband: his competition. And, considering the echelon we’re operating on, there’s only a few worth a mention.
One is Ramos, obviously, but we’ll get back to him in a second. The others are Giorgio Chiellini, Diego Godin, Mats Hummels, Raphael Varane, Leonardo Bonucci and, err, Thiago Silva? Anyone else? Oh, Dejan Lovren, obviously.
Now, looking back at that list, only Chiellini, Godin and Hummels really stand up – Varane probably hasn’t yet peaked, Bonucci has that Milan fiasco on his CV, Thiago Silva has been on the receiving end of more major tournament six-goal plus losses than he has major finals and Dejan Lovren is Dejan Lovren.
So, Chiellini, Godin and Hummels. And, as trite as they may be, one thing stands out immediately. Only one man has won either the Champions League or the World Cup, and that’s Hummels, and he’s probably the worst defender of that three. Sure, he’s certainly still useful, but he’s only 30 and there’s a reason Bayern were willing to let him leave for their direct rivals.
Indeed, looking back at the rough XI that started for Germany in the 2014 World Cup is quite a staggering thing, in that, save for Toni Kroos and Philipp Lahm, almost every player’s estimations have faded drastically in the proceeding years. How can you define a decade when you feel so far removed from it?
So, Hummels is a no – back to Chiellini and Godin. Both have been able to marry the good old dark arts with the demands of modern football. Both are domineering in the air and fierce in the tackle. Neither have ever been the fastest, neither have ever been affected by that fact.
Chiellini has had far more club success, and is one of the founding reasons for Juventus’ dominance of Serie A. But that dominance has simultaneously glossed up his trophy cabinet and bludgeoned his senses for true battle on the European stage.
He has also not been the player internationally that Diego has been, having lifted no silverware and played in just two World Cups, failing to get out of the group stage in both. Contrast that with Diego, who led his side to victory at the 2011 Copa America, fourth place at the 2010 World Cup and the quarter-finals – where they lost to eventual winners France – in 2018.
So, with hairs split, it’s Godin who gets the nod for me. And then there was one. Oh, wait no, then there was ?Sergio Ramos. We didn’t forget about Sergio Ramos, did we? Because Sergio Ramos has won three times the major international tournaments that Diego Godin has won, four times the La Ligas Diego Godin has won and four more Champions Leagues than Diego Godin has won, two of which came at the expense of Godin himself.
So then there really was one. One challenger left for the mighty Pique to dispatch. And it’s without doubt the hardest of them all. Because, finally leaving aside the trophy-obsessed ways of yonder, Pique has in some ways always been under Ramos’ shadow throughout his career.
Starting with his participation at Euro 2008 and Pique’s absence, and lasting right through this La Decima and beyond-dominated decade, Ramos has been, in full heel mode, the most domineering defender in the game. The ugliest. The most vilified. The most successful. The most begrudgingly celebrated.
The thing is, between those times, ?Pique
But alas, we’ve made this about trophies once more, and it doesn’t need to be. Because, while Ramos has built his game, and indeed his myth, around the dark arts and all their pervasive qualities, as well as an incomprehensible ability to find the net when it matters most, Pique has crafted the blueprint for all modern defenders to follow.
He is the passer from the back, the passer from deep, the stays-on-his-feet jockeying and the legs-a-sprawling slide tackling defender. He embodies the sensibilities of not just today, but tomorrow.
And, yes, he has done it all whilst simultaneously crafting the most successful career a central defender has ever had.
You’re welcome, Gerard. Any legacy-defining financial rewards are welcome.