Piquira: A year of love
After celebrating their anniversary, the Barcelona defender reveals secrets about their relationship - including the warm welcome she's received from his nearest & dearest
Gerard Piqué has a grandmother in Sant Guim de Freixenet whom he loves deeply and who used to sell fruit; a grandfather in Barcelona who runs an import/export business and who was once a vice-president of FC Barcelona; his mother Montse is a doctor and his father Joan a businessman, writer, and motorcycle nut. In addition, he has a brother whom no one ever says anything bad about, and 8 cousins, of whom his favourite is Montse: 20 years old, Down's Syndrome, a Pedrito fan. She and Gerard adore each other. Piqué, in his national team coach Vicente del Bosque's own words, is "a firestorm of youth, a young man whose happiness is contagious".
Gerard Piqué has an IQ of 140; he's won a World Cup and 13 trophies with Barcelona in the last 3 years, he's been a Barca soci since Feb 2 1987; a handsome millionaire who right now happens to be house-hunting with his Colombian girlfriend, the singer Shakira, who was born on the same day as him (Feb 2) except 10 years earlier, and who has sold over 70 million records. He maintains a strong nucleus of friendships forged in childhood during his years studying at La Salle Bonanova high school, in whom he seeks refuge when things blow up and with whom he goes on holiday for at least a week every year.
He claims that he never loses at Playstation, especially facing off against Fábregas, his teammate both at Barcelona and the Spanish national team; practically a brother. His self-confidence at times verges on audacity: in Zurich, before the Ballon d'Or gala, he challenged the Fifa Pro world champion to a game. He lost, of course, just as he loses every time he plays frontón with Sissoko as his pairs partner, or when he plays his father at padel tennis. "He really believes that he could beat Nadal, if only his racquet were less shitty," jokes his family.
Gerard, who jokes around but is nevertheless faithful, often deceives by appearances: once you get to know him he turns out to be much more tender, innocent, caring and mature than you might initially guess from his God-given self-confidence ("Well, actually I get that from my dad," he clarifies); he's used to confusing those who don't know him. He's tidy, except for his car trunk; he loves soups & stews, and he can be somewhat clueless: in Manchester his satellite dish got stolen and, thinking he'd broken his TV, he went out and bought a new one. He loves the Smiths and, according to his girlfriend, "he has an amazing family."
His writer dad
In Sant Guim de Freixenet, a town of 1000 in the Segarra region, Joan Piqué was always "Lina's little boy, the son of the fruit lady". To the medical community, he was the husband of the eminent doctor Bernabéu, and to a certain sector of Catalan society, the son-in-law of Amador Bernabéu, VP of FC Barcelona during the Núñez years. Not too long ago he became "Gerard Piqué's father", and today at last he's celebrated in his own right as a successful author who's currently working on the follow-up to his first novel, Two Lives. "He never told us anything - one day he showed up with a finished manuscript and stunned us all!"
Joan, who used to play center-forward in his town's football team, one day discovered that there were three girls in the stands to whom he'd promised he'd dedicate his next goal. He deliberately didn't score that day -- he barely even touched the ball! -- but he soon realized that the only one he wanted to take for a ride on his Derbi Cross was a certain princess of Barcelona society a full three handspans taller than he. "I was really stubborn about it, and I asked her out year after year after year... and finally she gave in!" His father-in-law didn't find it terribly amusing: "I guess he was expecting a lawyer, but instead he got a country boy!" Joan explains while laughing.
They have two sons, Gerard and Marc, seny i rauxa (Catalan for "wise & hotheaded"): the older is a whirlwind, while the other could almost be English with his calm manner and dry humor. "It can't be easy being my younger brother, but Marc is awesome," says Gerard of Marc, who studies business administration at the Instituto Químico de Sarriá, where Muniesa and other young FCB players also study. He was a decent football player, but he decided one day that he'd prefer to play informally with his friends rather than pursue it seriously. "People always compared him to his brother, whether or not he liked it, and that was tough for him to live up to," remembers his father Joan. An introvert, Marc did not thrive when his brother was living in Manchester; however, according to their mother, "Since returning, Gerard has really taken to his older brother role, and now he both spoils and scolds Marc more than I do!"
Although many people think Joan is a lawyer, he's actually never been to college. "The only university I ever attended was a job in Andorra I had when I was 19." He smiles cheekily, before explaining the details of that apprenticeship, and continues his improbable story by explaining: "I managed to avoid mandatory military service due to some "problems" with my eyesight," he says, laughing again.
He decided to return to live in Barcelona, and found work in finance. When Montse finished college, he agreed to work with her father in his import-export business. "My father-in-law didn't find it very funny that his daughter had married someone like me; he'd hoped for better." Today, together with his sister-in-law Gemma, Joan runs a business which imports construction materials, and in his free time he writes: Two Lives hit the shelves last November and to everyone's surprise has since found itself on the Catalan fiction bestseller lists.
People say that Gerard has inherited from his father his sporting talent, leadership ability, audacity, initiative, and most of all, his intelligence. Among the things Joan enjoys are: dressing well, his wife's lamb stew, and visiting his hometown whenever he can. He's so competitive that it makes him proud to say that he's never lost a single game of ping pong to either of his sons.
On Sundays, he enjoys taking his motorcycle -- a customized Harley Fat Boy Screaming Eagle -- out for a spin with his girl, Dr Bernabéu.
His doctor mom
"I like it! It's relaxing... the scenery, the sights & smells," says Dr Montserrat Bernabéu Guitart. She explains, almost as an apology, why and how she made her husband install a passenger seat for her when he bought his Harley: "Man, I was about to fly off the back!"
"I'm as good-looking as my mother, that much is clear," her older son has said before to justify, with characteristic modesty, his undeniable attractiveness. If Dr Bernabéu were a cartoon character, she would be Duchess from The Aristocats: tall, blonde and blue-eyed, her elegance never goes unnoticed in the hallways of the Guttmann Institute, a leading hospital in brain damage rehabilitation, where she works. In the privacy of her office, surrounded by photos of her family, she speaks unhurriedly and smiles a lot. No one can deny that there are plenty of reasons to celebrate the 25th birthday of her firstborn child.
As a young girl, Montse followed her boyfriend from match to match around all the local football pitches in the region, and continued doing so even after they were married. She used to play basketball but now instead attends jazz dance classes twice a week, and has also become accustomed to now traveling from final to final following her son around: Moscow, Rome, Abu Dhabi, Valencia, Johannesburg, London, Yokohoma.... Does she actually like football? "How could I not? My father was a football club director, my husband played, now my sons do... one of my favourite childhood memories is of Sundays driving to our house in Blanes: my father would always listen to Barça match commentary on the car radio." She laughs, imitating an old advertisement: "Soberano: It's for men!"
After Montserrat Bernabéu graduated from college in 1989, she specialized in physical medicine and rehabilitation at the Vall d'Hebron hospital. In January 1993 she joined the Guttmann Institute, where she's now responsible for the brain damage unit, after having spent time in Boston to complete her training in rehabilitation of the aftereffects of brain injuries. “We had a lot of babysitters,” recalls Gerard. "They sure did -- for entire weekends at a shot!" exclaims his mother.
The mother in her, as much as the doctor, was miserable the day a 16-year-old Gerard left for Manchester. "It was a very difficult decision." It wasn't possible for her to accompany him, and it also upset her greatly to think that he was abandoning his studies. "This whole football thing is nice and all, but someone needs to make sure the boys actually study; otherwise they end up retiring at 30 without any skills besides their football experience." She never forgets that although Spanish football may have gained a world champion, medicine has in turn lost a likely talent: "Whether medicine, economics, or whatever else Gerard may have set out to do, he would have been great at it. He's such an incredibly quick learner, but the school system just ended up not working out for him. Such a disaster," she reflects.
Fortunately, she can be now happy that a few months ago, Gerard began to receive individual tutoring in economics, accounting, corporate finance and current affairs with a group of professors at ESADE. "He needs to begin to prepare himself for when football comes to an end," says the responsible doctor -- the same doctor whose son's girlfriend asked her advice to pick out a dress for the Ballon d'Or gala. It goes without saying that the end result was spectacular.
His singer girlfriend and Grandma Lina
Shakira doesn't deny it: "The 2010 World Cup changed my life." Understandably so: while in Barcelona to record the music video for Waka Waka, the official song of the World Cup that was held in South Africa and won by Spain, she ended up meeting for the first time the man with whom she's currently house-hunting in Barcelona. Officially, they've been together for a year, since the day Piqué uploaded a photo to Twitter of their joint birthday party. The second time they met each other was at the Johannesburg stadium the day before the World Cup final. Piqué was doing his warm-up stretches, and Shaki (as Gerard calls her) was also warming up her own hips to dance Waka Waka at the pre-match festivities, and that very day the sparks had already begun to fly. That summer it was claimed that they had an fling in Ibiza, a rumor both have always denied. Six months later they found themselves hunted by paparazzi, who were convinced they were in a relationship. "I found that time very difficult," recalls Dr Bernabéu. "We had no privacy at all, and photographers were following us everywhere. Fortunately, everything's a lot more calm now." In fact, this last Thursday, the day of their shared birthday, Gerard managed to shake off eight paparazzi after leaving training without having to go too far out of his way.
"Man, I would've preferred someone a little more low-key, I don't know, a local girl from a nearby town. But hey, things are what they are!" shrugs his father, who has nothing but great things to say of his son's girlfriend. "She's awesome; enchanting. Sweet and caring. It scares you at first, because she's so famous all over the world, but when you get to know her... She's adapted perfectly to Barcelona and to our family, and we're thrilled that she's with Gerard." Shakira's own parents have spent a few weeks in Barcelona, visiting a year ago for that infamous birthday party. "They're very cultured people", say the Piqués, with whom Shakira spent this Christmas.
You'll frequently see Gerard and his lady out and about around Barcelona, eating at some Italian restaurant in the upper part of town, or in some Japanese restaurant in the Barri Gotic, or enjoying some fruity concoction -- neither drinks alcohol -- at some local bar in the Born. "They try, as much as possible, to live a normal life just like any other couple, although in their case it's not always easy." "I'm happy in Barcelona," says Shakira, her hand in Gerard's, and he laughs upon recalling the afternoon he brought his girlfriend to Sant Guim to meet Grandma Lina.
It seems that the old lady had absolutely no idea that this girl who'd just showed up at her old fruitstand with her grandson was the second-most famous woman on the planet. "She had enough trouble speaking Spanish (instead of Catalan) -- and Shakira was totally freaked out, because she didn't understand a thing!" recounts Gerard. As she always does whenever her grandsons visit, Grandma Lina offered them some pa de pessic -- a typical Catalan cake -- from Cal Mensa, the best bakery in the area. Shakira seemed happy in that tiny town. She's currently studying Catalan, so don't be surprised if the next time she shows up in Segarra, she's able to communicate perfectly with Grammy Lina.
"She's amazing. And if you don't believe it, go watch the speech she gave in Oxford," says Gerard to anyone who wants to know more about his girlfriend who, since Madrid fans hurled insults at her during the Copa del Rey final in Valencia, no longer travels to certain matches. "It's hard for her to understand this much hatred in sport," explains the footballer. But when Barça plays at home, she never misses a match, and she has her very own seat in the Piqué family's suite. They say that watching a match with her, in the suite of this otherwise-normal family, is exhausting.
Those who were waiting for Shakira and Piqué to celebrate their 35th and 25th birthdays in high style will have been disappointed. It was instead a discreet affair, with a small group of friends, in a Barcelona restaurant. Rumor has it that the footballer gave the singer a gift of a Mercedes two-seater, but Piqué himself has denied this.