Barcelona enjoyed a 2-0 win over Almeria on Saturday but the night belonged to defender Gerard Pique’s who was playing his last game at the Camp Nou after he announced he will retire from soccer when LaLiga breaks for the World Cup next week.
Barca, who won with second-half goals from Ousmane Dembele and Frenkie de Jong, climbed to the top of the standings on 34 points from 13 games, two ahead of Real Madrid who have a game in hand and will visit Rayo Vallecano on Monday.
After missing several chances in the first-half, including a penalty for a handball that Robert Lewandowski put wide, Dembele broke the deadlock right after the break, slotting a precise shot into the bottom corner from a counter-attack.
In the 62nd minute, De Jong was well positioned inside the area to score off a rebound from goalkeeper Fernando Martinez and wrap up the points for Barcelona.
At a sold-out Camp Nou where everything surrounding the game was about the long-serving Pique, including the Barca players’ shirts which carried the word “Sempr3”, “Forever” in Catalonian, with Pique’s number 3 replacing the letter E.
The 35-year-old Pique, who started the game as captain, won 30 trophies, including three Champions League and eight LaLiga titles, with Barca.
He played well and almost scored in the first-half with two towering headers from corners against a defensive Almeria side who only had one shot on target in the match.
Pique was substituted in the 83rd minute, walking off the pitch in tears to a standing ovation from the 92,605 fans – the highest attendance at the Camp Nou so far this season – who packed the stadium to say goodbye to a club great.
He was thrown in the air by his team mates at the end of the match and gave an emotional speech to the adoring crowd.
“After a relationship of so much love and passion, I think it was time to give ourselves some space,” Pique told the Barca supporters who stayed behind for several minutes at the end of the game to honour their idol as tears rolled down his cheeks.
“I am sure that in the future I will be here again. This is not a farewell, I already said it when I was 16 years old when I went to Manchester United and came back. As my grandfather says, I was born here and I will die here. Visca Barca!”
Pique joined the Barcelona academy when he was 10 years old but left as a teenager to join United, where he made his professional debut in 2004.
He played one season on loan for Real Zaragoza before going back to Old Trafford where he was part of the team who won the Champions League and Premier League double in the 2007-8 season before heading back to Barcelona at the end of that campaign.
In 15 seasons at the Nou Camp he has become the player with the fifth highest number of appearances in the Spanish club’s history (667) after Lionel Messi (778), Xavi Hernandez (767), Sergio Busquets (694) and Andres Iniesta (674).
Regarded as one of the best centre backs of his generation, Pique collected 36 trophies during his 18-year career, including a World Cup and European Championship with Spain.