x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

'World-class' Rooney must be stopped, says Pique

Gerard Pique, the Barcelona defender, is set to come up against his former Manchester United teammate Wayne Rooney at Wembley Stadium tomorrow night. And he is unsure whether knowing so much about Rooney's talents is a good or bad thing.

LONDON // Gerard Pique, the Barcelona defender, is set to come up against his former Manchester United teammate Wayne Rooney at Wembley Stadium tomorrow night. And he is unsure whether knowing so much about Rooney's talents is a good or bad thing.

"I have never seen a player as powerful as Wayne Rooney," Pique said.

"The way he goes past people, the intensity of his play, the runs he makes from the first minute to the last and the shot that he has. World-class."

Pique, 24, has given much thought to Rooney this week and to what role he will play.

"Wayne will be more dangerous as a striker," he said. "He is always a striker at heart. We will have to be really focused not to give him space, not to give him time, not to score goals."

The pair have kept in touch since the Catalan departed Old Trafford in 2008 after a three-year spell.

"We were close at United," he said. "One day I remember the boss made us both change our boots in training as he didn't like us wearing yellow ones. We have a good relationship, but during the game there are no friends."

Pique also retains respect for his former manager.

"Sir Alex is always 'the Boss', and always will be," Pique said. "He's absolutely incredible. He's won loads of titles and has made Manchester United the best team in England."

United snared Pique, who had excelled at youth level, as a 16 year old from Barca in 2004. He was a patient learner in Manchester, but his first-team opportunities were limited to 14 starts and nine substitute appearances over three seasons; a fourth was spent on loan to Real Zaragoza.

Does he think United regret letting him go?

"Maybe Alex would want me to still be in Manchester, but you'd have to ask him," said the Spanish World Cup winner.

"I don't know if he regrets letting me leave. At the time I left it was a good decision for him, for me, for Manchester and Barcelona.

"When I arrived here I was lucky to have a lot of minutes to show that I could play. Maybe I could have done that at United, but I decided to leave.

"I didn't play all the time at United, that was the problem. Rio Ferdinand and [Nemanja] Vidic played every week, which I could understand because they were so good, the best pairing in the world.

"It was almost impossible for me to break into the team; that's why I had to leave. Ironically, when I left they started to get injured. As soon as I started playing regularly at Barca, fans saw me at my best."

He has thrived since he settled at Barca, winning three league titles, the 2009 Champions League against United and the World Cup with Spain a year later. Yet he does not rest on his laurels.

"It's a challenge every day at Barcelona, training with Messi, Xavi, Iniesta and all the others," he said.

"I try to do my best. I'm fighting against the best players in the world and you have to be really, really good to stop them.

"It was the same in Manchester, when I was there. Every day I had to train with Rooney, [Ruud] Van Nistelrooy and Cristiano [Ronaldo] and every day was a challenge."

He faces one of his biggest challenges tomorrow night, marking Rooney once again.

 

sports@thenational.ae