Barcelona’s Gerard Pique ‘knew licence was invalid’ – Spain driving agency

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Spain’s Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DGT) has confirmed that Gerard Pique was aware that his driving licence was invalid when he was pulled over last week.

Barcelona defender Pique was stopped by local police on Friday and a routine check revealed that he was driving without any points on his licence — drivers in Spain start with 12 points and points are then deducted for any traffic offences.

Amid doubts over whether or not Pique knew he was driving with an invalid licence, a Catalan court asked the DGT if and how they communicated to him that he had no points remaining.

“Without going into too much detail, I will say that Pique was personally notified of the loss of points,” Pere Navarro, the director general of the DGT, said on Tuesday. “I’m surprised he doesn’t travel with a chauffeur.”

Pique now faces a fine of up to €288,000, community service or a prison sentence of up to six months for breaching Spain’s driving laws.

In the meantime, the centre-back has found an innovative way to get to training.

As his teammates turned up in their club-sponsored cars on Monday, he was captured arriving at Barca’s Sant Joan Despi base on an electric bike.

Diario AS report that the bike is worth around €10,000 and that its top speed is 90kmph, although the ones which are available to buy are restricted to 45kmph.

Pique is not the only Barca player to take advantage of the good climate in the city to make use of other modes of transport — even if he was left with no other choice.

Earlier this year, goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen was spotted whizzing around on an electric scooter after swapping his home in Castelldefels for city centre living.



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Barcelona signing Manchester United’s Paul Pogba would ‘make us happy’ – Gerard Pique

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As the drama between Paul Pogba and Jose Mourinho continues, Mark Ogden assesses Pogba’s role at Manchester United and whose side the fans are on.
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Gerard Pique has given his backing to a potential Barcelona move for Paul Pogba, either this summer or in the future, saying it would be good if the Manchester United midfielder joined him at the Camp Nou.

Barca have been linked with Pogba throughout the summer and, with the transfer window open in Spain until Friday, president Josep Maria Bartomeu has refused to rule out a move for the France international.

There have been reports of a souring of the relationship between Pogba and United coach Jose Mourinho, and agent Mino Raiola, said last week he would have “sleepless nights” finding Pogba a new club.

“I’m not too well-informed on what’s going on between [Pogba and Mourinho],” Pique said at an event on Monday. “He is a great player, that’s clear, and we will see in the future if he changes clubs.

“It would be good if he came [to Barcelona] and it would make us happy in the future, but we have to respect the fact he is a Manchester United player.”

Barcelona first attempted to sign Pogba in 2015. Before he returned to United, Juventus rejected a bid worth around €80 million from Barca.

That interest was reportedly reignited earlier this year when Raiola supposedly offered Pogba to Barca as he looked to help the midfielder find a way out of United.

There have been mixed messages from Barcelona, with Bartomeu leaving everything open as director Ariedo Braida said it was unlikely the club would move for Pogba this summer.

Barcelona's Lionel Messi, right, vies for the ball with Manchester United's Paul Pogba, left.
Manchester United’s Paul Pogba, left, has been linked to a move to join Lionel Messi at Barcelona all summer.

Vice president Jordi Mestre, meanwhile, told ESPN FC that after making four signings, Barcelona are unlikely to move for anyone else unless a “big opportunity” presents itself.

With the transfer window shut in England, United are unlikely to sell this month as they are unable to sign a replacement.

Pogba would become Barcelona’s fifth signing of a busy summer that has already seen them land Arthur Melo, Clement Lenglet, Malcom and Arturo Vidal.

“We have strengthened really well,” Pique said. “But we will see what happens at the end of the season.

“Lenglet’s good on the ball. I think when he’s played he’s done very well. We have to give them all time, though, because they’re all quite young. We have to look at the present and the future. Arthur’s only 21 and Lenglet and Malcom are young as well.

“We need to learn from last season’s mistake [in the Champions League] and not have any bad days. We have to stick with the style that has defined the club since I joined — and even before — and that’s what we have to show the new signings.”



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Barcelona presidential candidate Victor Font admires Gerard Pique’s innovation, eyes creative content

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ESPN FC’s Gab Marcotti questions if Atletico Madrid would have much of a case against Barcelona for approaching Antoine Griezmann.
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Barcelona President Josep Bartomeu sits down with ESPN FC to discuss Barca’s loss to Roma, winning two titles and more.

Barcelona will speak with Gerard Pique about his involvement in a documentary which saw Antoine Griezmann reject an offer from the La Liga champions, but Victor Font believes it is the type of innovative thinking the club should embrace themselves.

Font, who hopes to succeed Josep Maria Bartomeu as president at the Barcelona’s next elections, says the club need to seek new ways to keep up with the ever-richer world of football. 

Looking at the Pique situation from different perspective, Font feels Barca have wasted the “best-ever generation of footballers” by failing to lead the way with similar, insightful content during the last decade.

“[The Griezmann documentary] is very much that sort of thing which the club should be doing,” Font told ESPN FC when asked what he means when he accuses Barca of “missing an opportunity” to take advantage of the talent they have had this decade.

“Not that particular example, mind, because you play with emotions, but you can come up with creative content that can be very appealing to people and that people may be willing to pay for.

“That should be the club doing it, not one of the players or an external company. Obviously, an external company can also do the same, but on things that relate to the club — and therefore the club has control over — that’s where innovation should happen.”

Font will run to become president of Barcelona at the next elections in 2021, although his chance to replace Bartomeu may come earlier if the elections are brought forward, as is often the case.

He says there would be no perfect solution to creating content should he become president.

“No one has the magic formula just yet,” Font added. “It could be content which is open and made public — you just need to register on social media and so on — that is well-packaged and properly thought through.

“Or [it could be] easy to produce content, like behind the scenes material that maybe with some creativity you can come up with and someone on a subscription-based model would be paying €5 for per year.

“And now, seeing partnerships between clubs and production companies, like Netflix and Amazon, creating documentaries, short pieces of film… This could be interesting.

“Obviously, if Amazon does this, they’ll try to get the lion’s share of the money. But it’s about being proactive, taking some initiative and seeing how you can benefit the club. This is the type of innovation which technology allows you to do.”

The opportunity for innovation extends to business too, Font believes.

“It’s not only content, either,” he said. “[It’s about] re-thinking the business model even though the club has done well: they’re still top three every year [in revenue] as they grow and exploit the traditional model.

“They’ve opened a very small presence in Asia and the U.S. to try and sign regional sponsorship deals. But that has a limit; that has a cap. What has exponential growth potential is going direct to consumer because you have 400 or 500 million fans around the world. If you sell €5 a year [to each of them], that’s €2.5 billion.”

Font, who works in the telecoms, media and technology industries, believes it will be essential for Barcelona to make these changes and to lead the way if they want to continue competing in the post-Lionel Messi era.

“You need people on the board that know about the industry of entertainment, technology, digital, so that this business-to-business to business-to-business-consumer transformation becomes a reality and we can come up with innovative models and so on,” he says. “It’s like building a board for one of the top entertainment companies in the world.”

Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.



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Barcelona to probe Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti roles in Antoine Griezmann decision

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Antoine Griezmann has finally announced his decision to stay at Atletico Madrid, and the FC panel can’t quite believe how he went about it.
World Cup: Antoine Griezmann (58′) France 1-0 Australia

Barcelona will speak to Gerard Pique and Samuel Umtiti over their involvement in Antoine Griezmann’s decision to turn them down and renew his contract with Atletico Madrid.

Pique’s company produced the documentary in which Griezmann rejected an offer to sign for Barca, while Umtiti publicised the airing of the programme via social media.

Barca had no idea the documentary was being made and were shocked at the manner in which Griezmann’s decision was finally revealed after months of talks with the France forward.

“As a club, we respect Griezmann’s decision to renew with Atletico as we respect any player’s right to decide their future,” vice president Jordi Mestre said at the presentation of Eric Abidal as the club’s new sporting director. “But we feel bad for the supporters who felt disappointed with the way it happened and the way the final resolution came out.

“[Club president Josep Maria] Bartomeu spoke with Pique to tell him that his involvement provoked surprise and discomfort at the club and among fans. We will speak with him and Umtiti internally after the World Cup about what happened but we won’t make any more public comments.”

Mestre refused to answer any questions on the issue, appearing particularly uncomfortable when asked who had been in charge of trying to convince Griezmann to move to the Camp Nou.

Atletico coach Diego Simeone and club captain Diego Godin both played a big role in persuading Griezmann to stay in Madrid.

Events unravelled in a similar way last summer, when Neymar left for Paris Saint-Germain and the club’s hierarchy were among the last to know he was leaving.

France's Antoine Griezmann
Antoine Griezmann revealed his decision to stay at Atletico Madrid in a television documentary.

The appointment of Abidal comes, in part, as a reaction to that, with the club hopeful that the former France international will help bridge the gap between the dressing room and the boardroom.

“One of the reasons we chose Abidal is for the day-to-day link he will have with the first team squad,” said general manager Pep Segura.

“He will deal with any problems the players may have and he will be by the side of the coaching staff. Eric understands this side of the game brilliantly because it’s not long since he was in that dressing room himself.”

Segura said another reason for appointing Abidal as the successor to Robert Fernandez, who left the club when his contract expired earlier this month, is due to his knowledge of the French market.

Barca have signed France internationals Umtiti, Lucas Digne and Ousmane Dembele in the last two years, and Segura feels it is important to keep on top of a market that is “the biggest feeder to Europe’s top leagues.”

Abidal, meanwhile, believes he is ready to take on a key role at the club he played for between 2007 and 2013.

“I did my Masters with UEFA at university in France,” he said. “Then I came back [to Barcelona] in 2016 and spoke with a lot of people at the club. I also [spent time at] Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and at some smaller clubs in Italy talking with a whole range of people and learning as much as possible.”

Abidal added that he has already spoken with coach Ernesto Valverde and said now is the time to “make decisions” as Barca look to strengthen their squad this summer after missing out on Griezmann.

Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.



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Antoine Griezmann snub left Barcelona chief Bartomeu ‘pissed off’ – Gerard Pique

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Antoine Griezmann has finally announced his decision to stay at Atletico Madrid, and the FC panel can’t quite believe how he went about it.
With Antoine Griezmann yet to announce his decision on his future, the FC crew discuss whether staying at Atletico would show a lack of ambition.

Barcelona’s Gerard Pique says club president Josep Maria Bartomeu was left “pissed off” by Antoine Griezmann’s decision to reject a move to the Camp Nou.

Pique has also defended his involvement in the documentary which saw Griezmann confirm he was staying at Atletico Madrid on Thursday. Pique’s company Kosmos Studios produced the documentary — titled “The Decision” in a nod to Lebron James’ 2010 ESPN television special of the same name — which charted the past few months of Griezmann’s life as he decided what to do next season.

Diario SPORT reported that the documentary had caused an “earthquake” at Barcelona and Pique confirmed he has spoken with Bartomeu, who is upset to miss out on a striker he thought had persuaded to sign.

“I spoke with Bartomeu [on Friday] morning, he called me, everything is fine,” he added. “He’s pissed off because he wanted Griezmann to sign and thought he would end up coming.

“But Barca are much bigger than one player. If one player doesn’t want to come, he will have his reasons, be that sporting or financial, but there are others that will come.”

Pique has hit back at suggestions that his involvement in the documentary displayed a lack of respect towards his club.

However, Pique says he’s been shocked by some of the reviews and explained that he, too, only found out on Thursday that Griezmann was staying at Atletico.

“It’s surprising to hear doubts about my commitment towards the club,” Pique told reporters after Spain’s 3-3 draw with Portugal at the World Cup on Friday.

“Obviously, at the end of the day, it’s one of my companies, but that’s it. Griezmann told me months ago there was the chance he could come to [Barca] and he didn’t know what to do. I proposed the documentary and my team got to work.

“We thought it was a good idea, a way to show people how these important decisions are made. From there, I completely disconnected myself from it, obviously.”

After infamously tweeting a photograph with Neymar last summer saying “Se queda” (“He stays”), Pique’s part in Griezmann’s publicity stunt did not go down well with supporters or the Catalan media.

A tweet featuring popcorn emojis to promote ‘The Decision’ was also unpopular but the Spain international insisted he was left in the dark about Griezmann’s decision until the very end.

“I was called [on Thursday] and told it was going out,” he continued. “That’s when I knew that the decision was to stay. That’s how it went. When I found out, I spoke with people at the club, but his decision would have been the same with or without [the documentary].”

Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.



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Takeaways from Gerard Pique’s ‘The Players’ Tribune’ article

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Portugal

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Barcelona’s Gerard Pique winds up Real Madrid players in joint Whatsapp group

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Gerard Pique has revealed to The Players’ Tribune how his mobile phone got him into trouble early on in his Manchester United career with an irate Roy Keane but it’s now being put to good use to wind up Real Madrid’s players.

The defender told various anecdotes from his time in the game and dismissed the notion that Barcelona and Real Madrid players are constantly at odds with each other.

Pique explained that Barca and Madrid’s players — many of whom represent Spain together — are even in a WhatsApp group, where they are able to behave like “little kids.”

It’s a group Pique is making particularly good use of at the moment, with Barca 15 points clear of their Clasico rivals and on track to win a third league title in four years.

“Every time [Madrid] won a match last season [when they won La Liga and the Champions League], they were posting shirtless photos on Instagram from the locker room,” Pique wrote.

“Remember that? They were smiling and flexing their muscles like The Rock and saying #HalaMadrid and posting little trophy emojis. This season, though, it’s a different vibe. All their Instagram photos are looking very somber. ‘Three points today. We must keep working harder!”

“So I’m texting them in the WhatsApp group, ‘Come on guys, why so serious?!’ Then I put a little crying emoji, and a laughing emoji. I even made a special name for the group. It’s called: CONGRATULATIONS.”

Pique’s WhatsApp antics could come back to haunt him if Barca contrive to throw the title away this season, although that may not haunt him as much as one incident with Keane during his time at Manchester United.

The defender moved to the Premier League as a teenager and one of his memories from his time at Old Trafford was a ticking off from the former Ireland international after his mobile phone went off in the dressing room.

“I’m literally sitting right next to Keane,” Pique explains. “The dressing room is so small that our legs are almost touching. There’s no space at all. It’s dead quiet. All of a sudden, you could hear this little vibration.

“Roy’s looking around the room. Oh, s—. I realise it’s me. [But] he can’t find where the noise is coming from. He’s looking around the room like a maniac, his eyes darting everywhere. You know the famous scene with Jack Nicholson in The Shining, when he bursts through the door? That’s what he looked like.

“He screams out to everybody, ‘Whose phone is that?!’ Silence. He asks again. Silence. He asks a third time. ‘Whose. Bloody. F——. Phone. Is. That?!’ Finally, I spoke up, like a little boy. Very softly, I said, ‘I’m so sorry. It’s mine.’

“Roy lost his mind! He went nuts in front of everybody! It was incredible. I almost s— myself. But it was a good lesson.”

Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.



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Barcelona edge past Atletico Madrid star performances by Gerard Pique Sergio Busquets Ivan Rakitic

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Janusz Michallik feels Barcelona sealed the La Liga title with a win over Atletico, but the injury to Andres Iniesta is a real concern for the club’s Champions League hopes.
Lionel Messi’s 600th goal for club and country was the difference as Barcelona moved eight points clear of Atletico atop La Liga.
Lionel Messi’s 600th goal for club and country was the difference as Barcelona moved eight points clear of Atletico atop La Liga.

Lionel Messi’s spectacular first-half free-kick handed Barcelona a crucial 1-0 win over Atletico Madrid at Camp Nou to send the unbeaten league leaders eight points clear of their opponents at the top of the table.

Diego Simeone’s challengers started cautiously but ended up with four strikers on the pitch although Barcelona held firm to earn a narrow but deserved triumph.

Positives

Barcelona had no time to rest after Thursday’s disappointing draw against Las Palmas but still managed to score a hard-fought victory over Atletico, one that puts them on the brink of the title. It wasn’t always pretty but Barcelona slugged away, going blow-for-blow with their hyper-physical opponents and got the win.

“This is how you win La Liga. You have to suffer,” said Sergio Busquets.

Negatives

Andres Iniesta went off injured in the 36th minute with a hamstring problem and pending further tests, he’s now a doubt to face Chelsea in the Champions League on Mar. 14. With Philippe Coutinho cup-tied for that match, Barcelona may be short of ideas in midfield if the skipper doesn’t make it.

The Catalans also failed to create many chances although unlike against Las Palmas, this time they didn’t pay the price.

Manager rating (out of 10)

7 — Valverde chose to match Simeone with a 4-4-2 and picked Coutinho ahead of Paulinho for the “extra” spot in the team alongside his 10 usual starters. It worked, with the former Liverpool playmaker causing Atletico problems and forcing the visitors onto the back foot. Using Paulinho would have given Atletico more onus to attack.

Player ratings (1-10, with 10 the best. Players introduced after 70 minutes get no rating)

GK Marc-Andre ter Stegen, 6 — The German goalkeeper had a surprisingly quiet afternoon even up against Diego Costa and Antoine Griezmann. His distribution was good and he took crosses well, in the absence of shots to save.

DF Sergi Roberto, 6 — Although Dani Alves’ departure makes Barcelona a less dangerous side, they do look more solid in defence with Sergi Roberto in that position. The midfielder has nearly perfected his play in the right-back spot and didn’t put a foot wrong even though his attacking influence was limited.

DF Gerard Pique, 8 — The centre-back scared Barcelona fans when he went down for a long period in the second half, having started this game despite a niggling knee problem, but his performance was exemplary. Pique was dominant in the air and a true leader at the back, cutting out attacks early and accurately.

Pique was heroic in central defence despite being less than fully fit as Barcelona held on to beat Atletico.

DF Samuel Umtiti, 7 — In recent weeks Umtiti’s form has dipped slightly but he was superb on this occasion, showing no signs of pressure in one of the biggest matches of his career to date. One nonchalant flick in the first half to keep the ball away from Atletico’s press was a highlight and shows how much confidence he has in possession.

DF Jordi Alba, 6 — Although the Spain international has been one of Barcelona’s best players this season, this was one of his quieter displays. At the back he was competent and quick to shut down danger, going forward he was more responsible than he usually needs to be.

MF Sergio Busquets, 8 — Barcelona’s timekeeper was immense in a hugely physical encounter, especially in the first half as he helped his side overrun the visitors. In the second period, Busquets came close to a rare goal with a volley that Jan Oblak tipped away and he showed his dedication to the cause by harrying the ball back moments later.

MF Ivan Rakitic, 8 — The Croatia international is extremely selfless, understanding that his job this season is to help support Busquets, mop up at the back and run where Barcelona need him to be, rather than where he wants to be. Won the ball back multiple times and was booked for a cynical foul on Angel Correa.

MF Andres Iniesta, 7 — The Barcelona captain displayed his usual quality on the ball early on and became a target for Atletico players, with Saul Niguez giving him a barge that left him prone on the turf. In an unrelated incident he suffered a hamstring injury and had to be replaced in the 36th minute, meaning he is now a doubt for the game against Chelsea on Mar. 14.

MF Philippe Coutinho, 6 — The Brazil playmaker is so comfortable on the ball it looks like he’s been part of the Barcelona team for years. However he still has to offer much more in attack. Some mazy dribbles caused Atletico problems but he lacked the final crucial pass.

FW Lionel Messi, 7 — For the third league came running Messi scored a free-kick, taking his tally for five in 2018. It was also his 600th career goal and what the game lacked in quality, his goal made up for alone. Beyond that he was kept under lock and key though the damage was already done.

FW Luis Suarez, 6 — Battling and scrapping away with his compatriots Diego Godin and Jose Gimenez, Suarez put in a shift as usual. Chances were at a premium with Simeone’s side doing all they could to deny him and Messi. Eventually the striker found the net in the second half but was correctly ruled offside.

Substitutes

MF Andre Gomes, 4 — Picked over Paulinho and Ousmane Dembele to replace the injured Iniesta, this was another big chance for the Portugal midfielder. He’s had plenty but they often go to waste like this one. Squandered an early chance after good work by Messi with a limp ball that trickled into Oblak’s hands. Went on to be largely invisible after the break.

MF Paulinho, NR — Replaced Coutinho with the clock ticking down.

Richard Martin covers FC Barcelona for ESPN FC. Twitter: @rich9908.



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Barcelona Gerard Pique thrilled with World Cup of Tennis

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Gerard Pique reflects on his journey at Barcelona, the club’s second treble and more following his contract extension.
Gerard Pique reflects on his journey at Barcelona, the club’s second treble and more following his contract extension.
Gerard Pique reflects on his journey at Barcelona, the club’s second treble and more following his contract extension.
Gerard Pique reflects on his journey at Barcelona, the club’s second treble and more following his contract extension.
Gerard Pique reflects on his journey at Barcelona, the club’s second treble and more following his contract extension.

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said he is excited to be the driving force behind International Tennis Federation (ITF) plans to revamp the Davis Cup.

Pique’s company, Kosmos, will invest $3 billion into the sport over the next 25 years to not just help transform the Davis Cup into the World Cup of Tennis, but also to help develop the game worldwide.

Kosmos, an investment group founded by Pique, is backed by Hiroshi Mikitani, the chairman and CEO of Japanese company Rakuten, who have been Barca’s main sponsors since 2017.

“Kosmos is thrilled to join in this exciting partnership with the ITF,” Pique said in a statement issued by the organisation. “Together we can elevate the Davis Cup to new heights by putting on a must-see World Cup of Tennis Finals featuring the top nations and top players.”

The ITF announced plans earlier this week for the Davis Cup to be transformed into a one-week, one-location, 18-nation World Cup of Tennis in a major overhaul aimed at enticing the best men’s players to participate.

David Haggerty, president of the ITF, said that the changes were aimed at making the tournament more appealing to the game’s top players.

The Davis Cup has struggled for relevance in a crowded sporting calendar in recent years because many top players have chosen not to play.

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has wanted to create a World Cup of Tennis for several years.

Pique first proposed a rival to the Davis Cup during talks with ATP chief Chris Kermode, among others, last May at the Madrid Open.

The Barca centre-back sought the opinion of some of the game’s top players at the time and the feedback he received on his plan was positive.

Speaking of Pique’s suggested changes last year, Rafael Nadal called the ITF “static” and criticised the organisation’s inability to change with the times.

Andy Murray, meanwhile, said it was “a really exciting idea which would be a really good thing for tennis.”

Novak Djokovic added: “I’ve spoken with [Pique] many times about some good initiatives — but some of them are confidential. It’s fantastic that a football star like Pique would get involved with tennis. He’s a great guy, and I have a lot of respect for him.

“[The proposal] is something that would only bring positives. There are ideas and projects, but tennis is really complicated; there are lots of tournaments, institutions and associations. In any case, all this is really good for the sport.”

The ITF finally bought into Pique’s idea after the Spain international presented the proposal to the board in Barcelona on Saturday before his side’s 6-1 La Liga win against Girona.

Haggerty said plans are in place for the revamp to take place in 2019, with the first World Cup of Tennis scheduled for November.

A round-robin format will be followed by a quarterfinal knockout stage. Each tie will consist of two singles and one doubles over best-of-three sets.

The response from the wider tennis world has been mixed, with the ITF’s announcement catching some by surprise and leaving others sceptical.

Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.



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Gerard Pique: It ‘really hurt’ Barcelona when Neymar left for Paris Saint-Germain

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ESPN FC’s PSG correspondent Jonathan Johnson discusses Neymar’s return to the PSG squad and examines the road ahead for the Brazilian star.
The FC panel question if Neymar should be more wary on the pitch after a Strasbourg midfielder voiced his desire to hurt the PSG star.

Gerard Pique has told The Telegraph he could see why Neymar decided to move to Paris Saint-Germain but added that it “really hurt” Barcelona.

As speculation grew that Neymar would move to PSG in the summer, defender Pique posted a photograph of the two on social media with the caption: “He stays.”

But Neymar went on to complete a world-record €222 million switch to Paris, and Pique said he could understand that he wanted to seek new challenges and win the Ballon d’Or.

“Even though it really hurt the club when he left, as a friend I could understand his decision and why he wanted to go to Paris,” Pique said.

“I tried to be fair to him no matter what. As a Barcelona fan it hurts, and I understand that maybe some Barcelona fans are disappointed about how he left.”

Neymar has finished third in the Ballon d’Or twice in the last three years, unable to get past either Cristiano Ronaldo or his former Camp Nou colleague Lionel Messi.

Playing alongside Messi, the club’s biggest name, made winning the award difficult, and Pique added: “It is very difficult to find a player who stays at the same club for the whole of their career.

“They need more motivation, they want to fight for new things. I know Neymar wanted the Ballon d’Or, so I think it is fair he left for Paris where he will be the main star.

“If he does a good job in the Champions League and in France, he has options to win the Ballon d’Or.”

Pique hailed former Barca coach Pep Guardiola, whose Manchester City are 11 points clear at the top of the Premier League after a record-breaking 15-game winning run.

“What he is doing at City this year is amazing,” the Spain international said.

“He is breaking all the records. I trust him a lot and last year I thought he would win everything because I knew the potential Manchester City have with him as a coach.

“But it wasn’t possible and he needed that process to adapt to the country.

“Now you can see the players know what Pep wants and how he wants them to play.

“They are playing great football, and they are strong favourites to win the Premier League. I hope they win the cup as well, and if we can play them in the Champions League final that would be good.”

Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.

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Barcelona to appeal against Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez cards against Leganes

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Ernesto Valverde questions the yellow card that will now rule Gerard Pique out of Barca’s clash with second-placed Valencia.
Luis Suarez snapped a five-game goalless drought in all competitions as Barcelona cruised to a 3-0 victory at Leganes.

Barcelona will appeal against the yellow card shown to Gerard Pique in Saturday’s win against Leganes in an attempt to enable him to play against Valencia next weekend.

Barca will also try to get the booking given to Luis Suarez in the game overturned.

Pique’s caution, for a foul on Nordin Amrabat in the first half, was his fifth in La Liga this season, meaning he will be suspended against Valencia.

Suarez, meanwhile, was booked for the third time in the league after a tangle with Leganes goalkeeper Ivan Cuellar.

“FC Barcelona have decided to appeal against the yellow cards given to Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez during Saturday’s game,” a statement on the club’s official website said.

“According to the referee’s report, written by the official Undiano Mallenco, Pique was booked in the 29th minute for ‘grabbing an opposition player who was in possession of the ball.’

“As for Suarez, [he] was booked in the 52nd minute for ‘impeding the goalkeeper releasing the ball when he has it under control in his hands.'”

Barca coach Ernesto Valverde said after the game that he felt Mallenco’s decision against Pique was harsh and could have gone the other way.

“I protested the booking because Amrabat made a lot of the contact, encouraging the challenge,” he said.

“And because the fans were pressing [for the card]… for me it was a foul that could have been given in our favour. I’m sure the Leganes coach will think the opposite, but for me the card is excessive.”

If the appeal is unsuccessful, Barca will be left with Samuel Umtiti and Thomas Vermaelen as their only fit central defenders at second-placed Valencia.

Javier Mascherano, meanwhile, is sidelined for the next month with a hamstring injury suffered while on duty with Argentina.

Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.

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Barcelona’s Andres Iniesta tells Spanish and Catalan leaders to talk

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Josep Bartomeu says if a declaration of independence would take place then the board of directors would have to meet and analyse what to do.
Gerard Pique threatens to retire from Spain’s national team if anyone deems his support for Catalonian independence disruptive.

Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta has called for dialogue between Catalan and Spanish leaders in the uncertain aftermath of Sunday’s referendum on Catalan independence.

On Sunday, Barcelona’s home game against Las Palmas was played behind closed doors in protest at the violence used by Spanish police during a vote that was deemed illegal by the Spanish government.

Catalan president Carles Puigdemont has since promised to move forward with plans to announce independence after more than 90 percent of 2.3 million voters backed it.

However, Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy and King Felipe VI refuse to acknowledge the referendum result and have accused Catalan authorities of attempting to break “the unity of Spain.”

Iniesta, who was born in the south of Spain but has spent more than half his life in Catalonia, wrote on his Facebook page: “I never have and I never will publicly address such complicated situations and diverse feelings, but the situation we are currently experiencing is an exceptional one.

“And before we do more damage to ourselves: Dialogue. Those responsible must talk. Do it for all of us. We deserve to live in peace.”

Iniesta’s post came hours after teammate Gerard Pique was whistled by supporters as the Spain team arrived in Alicante for Friday’s World Cup qualifier against Albania.

Pique voted in the referendum and was in tears when he spoke to reporters about the political situation after the game against Las Palmas.

On Wednesday he called a news conference at which he also urged dialogue and pointed out that he was not necessarily pro-independence but was in favour of people’s right to self-determination.

He has been whistled regularly by sections of Spain’s support in recent years and announced last year that he would retire from international football after the 2018 World Cup.

On Wednesday, he said he would not move that date forward despite recent events because it would give satisfaction to those who “whistle and insult.”

Later on Thursday, Barcelona expanded on their decision from earlier in the week to support the Independent Commission for Mediation, Dialogue and Conciliation in a bid to seek a resolution to the conflict.

In a statement signed by president Josep Maria Bartomeu, the club said: “Barcelona, as one of the leading institutions in the country, demands a process of dialogue and negotiations to find political solutions to the situation happening in Catalonia, and for this to be done with the utmost respect for the wish of the majority of Catalan people to decide on their future.

“We are More than a Club. And it is precisely because of that that we feel that it is our duty to stand by our people, under such difficult circumstances as those that are being experienced right now.

“Together with other bodies from civil society, we want to build bridges with dialogue that contribute to resolving the conflict in a peaceful and consensual fashion. People understand each other through dialogue.”

Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.

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Gerard Pique admits considering Spain retirement but plans to continue

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Thiago praises the attitude of teammate Gerard Pique, a supporter of Catalan independence, while playing for Spain.
Barcelona’s Gerard Pique was booed at a Spanish national team training session in Madrid following his comments on Catalonia’s independence referendum.

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique admits he has considered retiring from Spain, citing recent hostility following his comments on Catalan independence.

Pique was booed by Spain fans during Monday’s open training session with the national team. 

But on Wednesday at a news conference in Las Rozas, Madrid, he stated his intention to continue playing for his country and also attempted to defuse the controversy.

He said: “I have considered it [quitting] but after evaluating it, I think the best solution is to continue. To leave would be to give pleasure to those that have booed me, it would be telling them that they’ve won.

“I know in this group there are many that want me to continue and give everything for the national team. The national coach and the players have decided for me to be here. I’m here to help in as much as I can on the pitch, which is my job.”

Pique says he was “hurt” by the reception he got on Monday.

“It was difficult because obviously you don’t like the fans to be against you and to address you with that hostility,” he said. “Nobody likes to be insulted and booed. I think this is a challenge for me and I believe I can turn things around.

“There are people that were offended by my words but there are also many others in Spain that understand how I feel. Whether I think one way or another, through respect and coherence, we can find a way to reach a common understanding.”

After Barcelona’s 3-0 win over Las Palmas on Sunday, a game that was played behind closed doors due to the political climate in Catalonia, Pique drew the ire of some fans with his emotional remarks about the violent scenes related to the referendum which had taken place in the region that day.

Pique voted in Sunday’s referendum, despite it being declared illegal by the Spanish government.

“I don’t regret the things I said [on Sunday],” Pique said. “We are all people and we have our opinions. It’s impossible that we all think alike. I’ve only said that people should be allowed to vote. I have not taken a side. I’m in favour that people can vote, yes or no.

“But I respect others, like [Spanish tennis player] Rafa Nadal who thinks the Catalan people should not be allowed to vote. But through dialogue, it’s possible to reach an understanding.”

Gerard Pique was booed by Spain fans during Monday’s open training session with the national team.

Asked if he was in favour of an independent Catalonia, Pique said: “That’s the million dollar question and I’m not going to answer that. I would lose fans if I answered that question.”

Pique, nevertheless, believes that someone in favour of Catalan independence should be allowed to play for Spain.

“It’s not incongruent,” he said. “A pro-independent can play for the Spain national team. There is no Catalan national team and if you have nothing against Spain, then you should be allowed to play with the Spain team. Why can’t a pro-independent play for Spain, although this is not my case.”

Pique has played for Spain’s youth teams and scored five goals in 91 appearances for the senior side since making his debut in February 2009.

“I have been here since I was 15,” he said. “I consider this my family. It’s one of the big reasons why I’m still here. My commitment has been maximum. I’m hurt that people judge my commitment. I’m proud to be in the national team, to be a part of this unique group of players.”

Spain coach Julen Lopetegui has this week defended Pique, while teammate Thiago Alcantara has said that the defender won’t be affected by boos from fans.

Pique has urged the supporters to stand by the team in Friday’s game against Albania in Alicante.

“I realise that the booing by some will not stop, but others that are considering it, I hope they listen to what I have to say,” he said. “I feel uncomfortable for my teammates not so much for me but for them, because the fans should be supporting them.

“Friday’s game is a complicated one. If we win we are virtually qualified for the World Cup and that is what we have to focus on.”

Spain are three points clear of Italy at the top of Group G with two qualifying games remaining.

Pique, who announced last October that he would retire from the national team after next summer’s World Cup in order to allow “future generations to take his place,” now says he may play for Spain after the World Cup.

“I’ve also considered continuing beyond the Russia World Cup,” he said.

Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.

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Gerard Pique fit to face Real Betis in Barcelona’s La Liga opener

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Players and staff at Barcelona held a minute’s silence to pay their respects after an the attack in the Spanish city.

Gerard Pique has been passed fit for Barcelona’s La Liga opener against Real Betis at Camp Nou on Sunday.

The defender strained his groin and was substituted in the second half of Wednesday’s Spanish Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid.

However, he trained on Saturday and Ernesto Valverde has included him in his 18-man squad for this weekend’s curtain-raiser.

Thomas Vermaelen is also available again after recovering from a knee injury picked up earlier this month in a preseason friendly, but he has not been named in Valverde’s squad.

Luis Suarez, who will be out for around a month, Andres Iniesta and Rafinha will all miss the game against Betis through injury, though, while new signing Paulinho will not feature as his paperwork has still not cleared.

The match will begin with a minute’s silence in memory of those that died in the terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils this week.

Gerard Pique should be able to face Real Betis on Sunday.

Both sets of players will also wear black armbands, while Barca’s players will carry ‘Barcelona’ on the back of their shirts where their surnames would usually appear.

They will also have the hashtag “#TotsSomBarcelona” (We are all Barcelona) on the front of their shirts and fans will be able to get that printed for free onto their shirts before the game if they wish.

Barca coach Valverde says the best course of action is to continue with life as normal, showing the terrorists that the city of Barcelona is not cowed.

“We are calm, we are not afraid,” he told a news conference. “We have to do our best in the circumstances and the best way [to do that] is to continue forward. We are all potential victims, in the metro, in football. What we cannot do is hide.

“These are extraordinary and lamentable circumstances. Yesterday was a tough day, a different day for everyone.

“We show our solidarity with the victims. This puts things in perspective. We are with the people that suffered.”

Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.

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Gerard Pique says he ‘knew’ Neymar would leave when he posted ‘He stays’

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Neymar admits he urged Gerard Pique not to post a photo on Twitter which claimed he was staying at Barcelona.
The FC crew react after Gerard Pique explained his tweet about Neymar’s future to SportsCenter’s Hannah Storm.

Barcelona’s Gerard Pique says he knew “100 percent” that Neymar would leave the club when he posted a now-infamous photo with his then-teammate saying “He stays.”

With the Brazilian staying silent about his transfer plans before his record move to Paris Saint-Germain Pique took a photo with him and posted it online on July 23 with the cryptic caption of “Se queda,” meaning “He stays.”

As he was introduced at PSG, Neymar said he had asked Pique not to post it, but that the two remained friends, and Pique revealed on Saturday that he knew all along that Neymar would leave Barcelona.

“I don’t feel tricked by Neymar. The day I said ‘he stays’ I knew that he was going 100 percent. It was the final shot,” Pique told reporters on the eve of Barcelona’s Spanish Super Cup first leg against Real Madrid.

“He got angry with me, but we worked it out. I did it to use my social networks to help this club to keep a player who has a unique talent. It was difficult but I tried to help my club.”

Neymar played for Barcelona throughout their preseason tour to the United States, a fact that Pique said should be remembered by those who would criticise him.

“He hasn’t disappointed me, there are several ways to leave, some go on strike and Ney fought for the shirt to the last second,” Pique said.

“We live in a world where people are sad and like to criticise a lot. Social media is the biggest example — the whole world expresses anger and sadness, the best example is how they criticise Ney, his dad and his friends.

“Here, everyone is judging them but if they have a salary or a commission it’s for something. Because they do something and the club accepts it.”

Barcelona are actively trying to spend the money they earned from Nemyar’s deal on reinforcement, though they’ve hit roadblocks with both Liverpool and Dortmund rejecting bids for Philippe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, respectively.

Pique said it would be impossible to find a like-for-like replacement for Neymar.

“He’s a unique player, with a special talent, one on one he’s the best in the world,” he said. “It will be difficult to find a replacement, rather than look for someone like him we have to make ourselves stronger, be a stronger and more competitive team. We can’t look for Ney’s replacement because he’s not available on the market.”

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde revealed that he didn’t know Neymarwould be leaving until he went public, though like Pique he also was prepared for his exit.

“[I found out about it] the day he came to my office to tell me, which was the day it was made public,” he said. “There had been a lot of talk and you could sense there was something as some players had commented something to me the week before, but I didn’t know for sure. The best way to replace him is to look forward, not back.”

Multiple reports in China on Saturday said Barcelona were set to announce Guangzhou Evergrande’s Paulino as their newest signing, and while Valverde mentioned him by name, he stayed quiet on potential deals.

“I don’t have any proof of anything. Lots of players’ names are mentioned for lots of clubs and it will be like that until August 31,” the coach said. “For the moment there is nothing, or at least not that I’ve been informed of. I have a feeling that Paulinho will not be playing tomorrow night [against Madrid].

“I have no knowledge of what players could come or of what goes on at other teams. I don’t worry about that as I have enough on my plate. The names that surface are not anyone’s stated requests.”

Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.

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