FIFA Ballon d’Or 2012 Special: Gerard Piqué, Beyond Expectations

FIFA Ballon d’Or 2012 Special: Gerard Piqué, Beyond Expectations

In a special five part series, totalBarça will feature each of the FC Barcelona nominees from the 23-man shortlist for the 2012 FIFA Ballon d’Or. Over the next week, a different contributor will present a nominee and argue for why he should win this year’s prestigious award before the announcement of the final three contenders on November 29th. In the first part of the series, doris86pl examined the professional opinions about priceless midfielder Busquets. Today, Amanda will look at the year had by one of the more unexpected nominees on this year’s list, Gerard Piqué.

There’s no denying that 2012 has been a year of ups and downs for FC Barcelona defender Gerard Piqué (25). At club level, the defender spent the year beset by rumours of rifts and transfers away from the team, besides having to deal with very real injuries and a lack of form that resigned him to the bench for many of the blaugrana’s most important games last season. This is in stark contrast to how Pique spent his summer, playing every minute for Spain in their 2012 UEFA European Championship win, forming part of a solid defence that only allowed one goal all tournament, and proving that club squabbles could be left aside for his solid partnership with Sergio Ramos.

When organizing this series, volunteers eagerly emerged for Busquets, Xavi, Messi, and Iniesta, but no one wanted to cover Piqué. In fact, most were baffled by his appearance on the 23 man list for the Ballon d’Or at all, considering his club form. So far this season, he’s missed seven weeks through injury, featuring in just 11 matches (6 League, 3 Champions League, 2 Spanish Supercopa). Last season, injury and a lack of form led to just 38 match appearances out of 64 games played, with 2 goals scored (breaking down into 22 League, 8 Copa del Rey, 5 Champions League, and 3 others). He watched Barça’s defeats to Real Madrid at home (1-2) and Chelsea away (1-0) from the bench, and was substituted after 25 minutes in the blaugrana’s 2-2 draw with Chelsea at home. Would things have been different if Piqué had been in form and had played the full 90 in each of these matches? Surely it’s to the player’s credit that such speculation can even be contemplated. What is clear is that injuries hurt his form, as did rumours of a rift between Piqué and Guardiola and the media’s focus on a potential transfer away from the club. Piqué’s absence was a loss for the team, as it has been so far this year.

Upon examining Piqué’s form for the blaugrana over the course of 2012, why then was he nominated for the award this year? I think the answer rests solely with his display for Spain in the 2012 UEFA Euro tournament. Gerard Piqué played every minute of the finals for Spain. Only one goal was allowed during the six games, and that was only in the first game against eventual finalists Italy. During the penalty shoot-out in the semi-final against Portugal, Piqué helped his team advance to the final by sinking his penalty shot, following the 0-0 draw.

Besides his own solid performance for Spain, I think the idea of collaboration also plays a part in the Catalan defender’s nomination. Initially, when no volunteers stepped up to write about why Piqué was deserving of the Ballon d’Or for 2012, I debated playing the sympathy card. Can’t someone take pity on the poor guy who had to spend his summer sandwiched between Arbeloa and Ramos, with Casillas just behind? What was meant as an admittedly lame joke I’ve come to realise does bears some impact on Piqué’s nomination.

Judging by the frequency of the media’s questions about the ability of FC Barcelona’s and Real Madrid’s players, especially in the Mourinho era, to get along when playing for Spain, the press and many fans expected drama and weaknesses to show up on the field. They were disappointed. Accommodating the absence of Puyol, Piqué and Ramos formed a centre back partnership that worked well together. While the Real Madrid defender managed to receive most of the plaudits from fans and the press, it takes two to build a solid central defense, and Piqué did his part with aplomb.

Looking at another relevant example, part of the reason for awarding this year’s Prince of Asturias Award to both Iker Casillas and Xavi Hernandez, as explained by the committee, was that “these two players symbolize the values of friendship and companionship beyond the intense rivalry between their respective club teams. Their sporting behavior is a model for all young people … Together they have shown an attitude of conciliation that undermined the traditional differences between opposing players and fandoms.” While Piqué and Ramos don’t seem to maintain the kind of friendship that Casillas and Xavi do, their professionalism and ability to work together on the pitch exceeded many more cynical expectations. This will stand them in good stead in the future, as being nearly the same age, one would expect their partnership in the back to continue for years to come.

Piqué, embracing one of La Masia’s best traits of humbleness, had a lot to say about the past year. Speaking last Spring about his club form, he acknowledged that “it has been a complicated year. I started with an injury and it was difficult to plug into the team dynamic. When I was on the bench, it’s because my teammates were playing better than me.” Speaking more recently of his nomination for the Ballon d’Or, Pique admitted that the honour was “not bad because it’s costly to nominate defenders [being one of only two defenders nominated, along with Ramos]. Those who get the awards and plaudits are the forwards and midfielders. It’s something very positive even though it has not been my best year. (FIFA) recognizes our hard work and that’s worth something.” Though he also noted that he “would not (vote for myself) because I don’t believe I have been the best.”

Even in what Piqué himself admits has not been his best year, the defender still managed to add another Copa del Rey title to his name as well as helping Spain extend their incredible run with the 2012 European Championship trophy. Like Busquets, the player described by FIFA as “frequently standing out with his elegant defending but also with his impressive dribbling and passing skills, not to mention his impeccable technique,” can boast a trophy cabinet bursting with 3 Spanish League titles, 2 Copa del Reys, 2 Spanish Super Cups , 2 UEFA Champions League titles, 2 UEFA Super Cups, 2 FIFA Club World Cups, 1 UEFA European Championship, and 1 FIFA World Cup. While this year’s Ballon d’Or may not bear his name, who’s to say what may happen in the future. The sky’s the limit when setting expectations for Gerard Piqué.

Images: David Ramos/Getty Images, Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images, Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images, Jasper Juinen/Getty Images