Piqué and the impasse over Barça captains' contracts

While the club wants to reduce deferred salary payments, the centre-back already knows that he will not enjoy the same prominence under Xavi

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Gerard Piqué and Xavi during the match against Mallorca at Camp Nou

BarcelonaSince his arrival at the Barça bench, Xavi Hernández wanted to make it clear that no one in his team would have a guaranteed spot. That captains, with whom he had already shared a dressing room during his time as a Barça player, would have to earn their place in the starting eleven, like all other players. In this sense, short-term performance, emergencies and the lack of reliable replacements have allowed Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets to maintain their status as almost undisputed starters during Xavi's first months. Only repeated injury problems have kept the Barcelona centre-back out of the starting eleven, while the left-back from Hospitalet and the midfielder from Badia have no competition for their positions. When Alba has not been able to play due to injury or suspension, Xavi has switched Dest to the left or opted for a defence with three centre-backs. And on the few occasions Busquets has not been available, neither Nico nor the transferable Frenkie de Jong have convinced the coach as replacements.

The three Barça captains have strong short-term footballing cases to hold on to their place in the team, but Xavi, despite the urgent need to be competitive again after a convulsive season that ended with the team not competing for any of the three titles, is trying to build a project in the medium and long term. That is why Xavi has had a conversation with Gerard Piqué to tell him that, at 35 years of age and with the physical problems he has had, he can no longer play a leading role in his team. The journalist Marçal Llorente published on social media on Monday that Xavi no longer counts on him, but ARA has learnt that what Xavi said was that he will no longer have a prominent role because he wants to give more prominence to recently renewed Ronald Araújo, Eric García, and 26-year-old Danish defender Andreas Christensen, who will arrive free of transfer from Chelsea (despite the fact that there is currently no margin to sign him on)

In addition, the club is still sounding out the market to reinforce the defence, and Napoli's Senegalese-born centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly and Athletic Club defender Iñigo Martínez are two options on the table. Repeated problems with injuries (and the doubts that they cause), added to his hectic life outside football, are handicaps which also make Pique doomed to lose his role as the main pillar of the defence. Those close to the captain tell ARA that what Xavi has told him is that he wants him to be "100% committed" and that "Barça has to be his priority". Piqué has supposedly acquiesced. He believes that the time has not yet come to step aside and that his performance, when injuries have not held him back, has continued to be good.

Another issue is to agree on a reduction in the millions of euros worth of salary Piqué still has to receive: they exceed €50m over the next two seasons. Despite the fact that the coach, in a way, has opened the door for him to leave, the club says it is very difficult for the defender to take a step aside and they admit that the agreed –and, to a large extent, deferred– salary payments, draw a scenario in which Piqué will continue to be a Barça player. The player's representatives – who are the same as Xavi's – are due to meet soon with the club to address this issue.

Deferrals, a headache

Continuing to defer millions of euros worth of payments (and generating debt) is no longer considered a valid solution and, in fact, the economic vice-president Eduard Romeu has expressed in an interview on the website Goal that they want to "kill deferrals". The effort that the club wants to ask captains is that they agree to write off part of the money owed to them. However, they have not yet been officially informed. Lately, both Busquets and Alba have publicly stated that, if this is the case, they would prefer to know directly from the club and not find out through the press. As this newspaper has been able to learn, the club met today with Busquets' representatives (who also have other Barça players in their portfolio), but the issue of a salary reduction has not been addressed. People close to Alba prefer not to comment.

The case of the fourth captain, Sergi Roberto, is a different issue. He has agreed to renew for a season for less than half of what he was paid before, driven by the fact that he knows Xavi is counting on him to develop a role as a right-back similar to the one Dani Alves has had.