Gerard Pique’s focus as his team took a valuable 1-0 advantage in Wednesday’s Champions League quarter-final first leg at Manchester United was particularly impressive, given the many potential distractions inside the Barcelona defender’s head.
Pique’s nine defensive clearances were vital as his team sat deeper to defend their advantage after taking the lead through Luke Shaw’s own-goal. There was steely determination and concentration from a player who has evolved into the clear leader of Barca’s back four.
The now 32-year-old has matured a lot on and off the pitch through recent years, while keeping some remnants of the sense of humour and sense of himself which have provoked opposition players and fans over the years.
After inviting himself onto late night Spanish TV talk show La Resistencia a few weeks’ ago, the father of two children with Colombian musician Shakira was asked whether he’d prefer a question about “sex or money”.
“I’ve got more than enough on both counts,” Pique responded with a broad smile. “In assets I’ve got more than Espanyol’s budget this year.”
Although no exact financial details were shared, Barcelona’s city rival in La Liga Espanyol’s annual turnover is almost €130m.
This figure is entirely believable given the development of Pique’s business career over recent years.
A first tech venture was Kerad Games, launched in 2012 as the publisher of online football games Golden Manager and Trivia League. That was mostly a launching pad ahead of the 2016 launch of EMR (Esports Media Rights), which manages the Pro Evolution Soccer (PES) European online league, with Barcelona, Celtic, and Schalke among the (real-life) clubs involved.
In 2017 there followed the even more ambitious global sports and media investment group Kosmos, of which Pique is founder and president.
Supported by Japanese billionaire Hiroshi Mikitani, Kosmos’ biggest splash so far is a 25-year $3bn partnership to take over tennis’ Davis Cup men’s team event. A new round-robin format tournament is to debut over 10 days in Madrid next November, with Oracle founder and Silicon Valley veteran Larry Ellison another backer.
There is also Kosmos Studios, whose most famous production is the documentary Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann used to announce he would not be joining Barcelona last summer.
Yet another company is Starcat Media Rights, which has partnered with the Players Tribune athletes online platform started by ex-New York Yankees baseball star Derek Jeter, with Silicon Valley investors including Google’s parent Alphabet. Such interests provide the topics of conversation as Pique dines with Mark Zuckerberg when the Facebook founder visits Barcelona for the annual World Mobile Congress.
“I’m working on two new projects,” Pique told L’Equipe in November, when asked if he was also interested in investing in football.
A few weeks later, Kosmos bought FC Andorra, the biggest club in the small Pyrenean country. Kosmos took control by assuming the €200,000 debts of a club who play in a Catalan division of the fifth tier of Spanish football. While regularly updating his Twitter followers about FC Andorra’s results, Pique has not yet shared his plans for the team which has never played higher than Spain’s third division.
At the Camp Nou, Pique is now a much more important ‘player’ in global business than any of the club’s directors. His personal influence was clear when Mikitani’s company, Rakuten, replaced the Qatar government as Barca’s shirt sponsor in a €55m-a-year deal in 2016.
“I know Miki for a good while, and every year we get together for a few days in Asia and Japan,” Pique told Spanish magazine Panenka. “The truth is it is great to have him in the Barca family.”
Such activities mean it is now generally expected Pique will follow in the footsteps of his maternal grandfather Amadeu Bernabeu by joining the Barca board when his playing days are over. That is assuming his many other business interests allow him the time.
First though is tonight’s Champions League second leg at the Camp Nou, where Barca defend a 1-0 lead aiming to get past United and make the semi-finals. A fifth career UCL trophy is Pique’s short-term goal, but he is already playing the long game off the pitch.