Pique: No rift with Vilanova
Gerard Pique says speculation that he and Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova have different ideas on how the team must be improved this summer is wrong and that the pair have a "phenomenal" relationship.
Pique called for "decisions to be taken" immediately after Barca's painful 7-0 aggregate Champions League exit to Bayern Munich last Wednesday, with Vilanova then 'joking' at Friday's press conference that he assumed the defender "was not counting himself on the list of changes".
There was more evidence of internal strife at the Camp Nou during Sunday's 4-2 La Liga win over Real Betis, when security staff removed a banner saying 'ResPePct', which referred to ex-blaugrana coach Josep Guardiola, who some feel has not always seen eye to eye with current president Sandro Rosell.
With these issues hovering overhead Pique told reporters after the game that too much had been read into his comments post the Bayern match.
"I just said that some decisions should be taken, but I was talking along general lines," Pique said. "On a personal level for each individual so we could take a step forward and try and be better and work more so that next season we can try and reach Bayern's level. The tie showed they are a step ahead of us."
The defender, who before leaving Barca for Manchester United in 2004 played in a youth team coached by Vilanova, said the two men had always been close.
"I do not see what he said [on Friday] as directed at me," Pique said. "I have a phenomenal relationship with Tito. He was my coach when I was 15 years old. I appreciate him a lot, and have the highest respect for him as a coach."
When Barca lost any small issue was always blown out of proportion, said the Barcelona-born player.
"We know we are Barca, and everything around us gets multiplied a lot," he said. "If you look at what was said, it is not from another world. We are at a club that, when things go badly, people always look for some murmurs, some internal problems that in the end are not there."
Betis went 1-0, and then 2-1, ahead in Sunday's game, before Lionel Messi appeared from the bench to score twice and seal a 4-2 victory, which leaves Barca just two points from securing this season's La Liga title.
"We played well," Pique said. "The goal in the opening minutes was a tough blow coming from the tie where we had been knocked out. In the end we had turned things around, we played a very good game, created lots of chances and deserved the win. Winning is the best way to react [to exiting Europe]. I believe the team has shown it has this character of champions, that we want to win every time. Today was a vital game, to almost clinch the La Liga title."
Anyone who felt this season was a failure was not aware of Barca's history, Pique claimed.
"If you look at the last 30 years of this club, winning a league title and reaching the Champions League semi-finals is magnificent," he said.