Ronald Koeman has come to defence of Gerard Pique after the defender gave a controversial interview slamming Barcelona’s board.
On the eve of El Clasico against Real Madrid, Pique sat down with La Vanguardia to talk the future of Lionel Messi, president Josep Maria Bartomeu and the social media scandal which has seen the LaLiga club allegedly attack its own players.
Pique’s comments, particularly the ones aimed at the ‘outrageous’ board, proved agenda-setting in Spain ahead of El Clasico.
But for Koeman, the 33-year-old is ‘a clever guy’ and knows the added scrutiny he has placed on himself going into one of the biggest games of the season.
‘He’s been here a long time and I’ve been here three months,’ Koeman said. ‘He’s got his opinion and I respect that.
‘He’s a clever guy and he knows when he does these interviews that he’s got a game the next day and that he’ll play well.’
It has been a tumultuous 12 months with Barcelona now onto their third manager of 2020 having sacked two-time LaLiga winner Ernesto Valverde in January, and his successor, Quique Setien, after the 8-2 humiliation by Bayern Munich in the Champions League in August.
But the big story of the year was Lionel Messi submitting a burofax informing the board, who he had lost faith in, that he intended to leave in the summer, a year before his contract was due for expiry.
Pique was reportedly among a gaggle of players to stay quiet in the middle of the saga but he has since spoken out on the poor handling of the situation by president Bartomeu.
Pique added: ‘As president I would have acted differently. I asked Leo to stay on.
‘I didn’t have much dealings with him those days because I thought it was a very personal decision. I only said: “Leo, it’s a year, and then new people will come.”
‘I asked myself: “How can it be that the best player in history, who we have had the incredible luck to enjoy, gets up one day and sends a burofax because he feels that they are not listening to him?” Everything is too shocking. What’s going on?
‘Leo deserves everything. The new stadium and its sponsor should have his name (on it).’
Real Madrid travel to the Nou Camp three points ahead of Barcelona in LaLiga, albeit having played a further game.
Pressure is on both managers, with Real manager Zinedine Zidane reportedly under the microscope following back-to-back defeats to Cadiz and Shakhtar Donetsk in the Champions League.
In contrast Koeman will welcome back Jordi Alba for the visit of Real. The full-back picked up a hamstring injury against Sevilla at the start of the month but has returned sooner than expected to be in line to feature.
The Dutch boss will, however, be without first-choice goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen and defender Samuel Umtiti.
Koeman, 57, played in 14 Clasicos while at Barcelona as a player, but admitted it was a new feeling going into it as coach.
‘Hopefully I’ll sleep alright! Of course it’s different, the best thing would be going out there on the pitch, but my playing days are behind me,’ he said.
‘So the next best thing is to be as close to the pitch as possible. We know it’s an important match but I’m used to that kind of pressure.’
The excitement for the first Clasico of the season, which is being broadcast on LaLigaTV, has seen LaLiga roll out the red carpet across the globe.
It is a game which brings immense scrutiny and Koeman will know a poor showing from Pique will see his interview come back to bite him.