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18 Apr, 2022 14:08

Barcelona icon Pique accused of multimillion-euro Saudi plot

The FC Barcelona defender is under fire for allegedly agreeing a cash split with Spanish Football Federation head Luis Rubiales
Barcelona icon Pique accused of multimillion-euro Saudi plot

FC Barcelona defender Gerard Pique is in hot water with football fans after leaked audio recordings appeared to show him discussing the split of a cash windfall for taking the Spanish Super Cup to Saudi Arabia with Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) president Luis Rubiales.

The leaked recordings come as part of a sensational report by Spanish newspaper El Confidencial, which has detailed how the RFEF allegedly worked alongside Pique's firm Kosmos to push the Super Cup into Saudi hands – though Pique's role as a mediator was something that many domestic outlets already reported on in November 2019.

El Confidencial claims that in the same year, the RFEF signed a €40 million ($43 million) deal for each edition of the Super Cup held in Riyadh, with Rubiales allegedly pushing Saudi authorities into paying Kosmos €4 million ($4.3 million) for each tournament across six years totaling €24 million ($26 million) and then have them attempt to conceal Pique's involvement in the coup. 

In the recordings shared on social media, Pique is allegedly captured responding to Rubiales' revelation that Barca's bitter rivals Real Madrid won't play outside Spain for a fee lower than €8 million ($8.6 million) on March 7, 2019.

"Look, Rubi," Pique starts. "If they [Madrid] take eight million, bloody hell, mate, pay eight to Madrid and eight to Barca, two and one to the others, that’s 19, [then] the federation get six.

"Before you had nothing, now you get six. And we press Saudi Arabia and maybe we get more, we tell them if not, Madrid’s not going, and we get one or two more," Pique adds.

In September 2019, Rubiales then allegedly comes back to Pique by saying: "Geri, well done".

"I’m not referring to your great game or goal [in Barcelona's 5-2 win over Valencia], I’m referring to [the fact] that it’s now past 12 midnight and the agreement with Saudi Arabia is already firm. A hug, thanks for everything and I’m here for whatever you need me for," Rubiales purportedly signs off.

The RFEF was said to be expecting Monday's leak after denouncing the theft of audio recordings and a document – which it planned to report to national police – in a statement on April 14.

SPORT also notes that Kosmos didn't get its money directly from the RFEF, which would break ethics codes and push Pique into a conflict of interest for his alleged involvement in taking the Super Cup to Saudi Arabia until 2029.

Since the 2019-2020 season, the Super Cup has changed from a two-team and one or two-legged final between the winner of La Liga and the Copa del Rey to a four-team format of semi-finals contested by those two champions and, as in the last edition, whoever finished runner-up in either competition.

Pique appears to have suggested the change of format and originally nodded towards holding the final at Barca's Camp Nou, with Real Madrid's Bernabeu also another potential venue. As Rubiales gave Pique the green light to explore buyers for television rights, however, Saudi Arabia then emerged as an eventual host.

While Spanish football enthusiasts remain either divided or indifferent on the new format itself, the export of the Super Cup to Saudi Arabia – save for the 2020-2021 season when it was held in Seville, Cordoba and Malaga – has pretty much universal disapproval.

With Monday's revelations, some have called Rubiales out for his hypocrisy when remembering his 2018 blocking of a plan from arch-nemesis and La Liga counterpart Javier Tebas to take a Catalan derby between Girona and Barca to Miami.

Pique has come out of the debacle worse, however, and especially with mainland Spanish fans who already disliked him for his Catalan nationalism and suspected yet unconfirmed support for the Catalan independence movement which led to him being heckled by fans and was a factor in him quitting the Spanish national team in 2018.

An April 2021 tweet from Pique saying that: "Football belongs to the fans. Today more than ever" when the European Super League fell apart has now been deemed not to have "aged well" and is full of comments of criticism for the Super Cup scandal.

Pique hasn't been free of scorn from Barca fanatics either, however, who have idolized the La Masia youth academy product and tipped him to become president one day through actions such as taking a paycut at the start of this season so that Barca could navigate a strict salary cap and register new players.

In a similar fashion, the comments section to an Easter post of the number '3' with a chocolate Barca badge on the club's Catalan Twitter account has now been showered with remarks such as "you deserve to play in an empty stadium" in reference to poor attendances at Camp Nou that saw the Blaugrana recently outnumbered by Frankfurt supporters when dumped out of the Europa League quarter-finals.

"Gerard Pique is such a difficult figure to judge," said a Spanish football journalist.

"On the one hand, he's a Barca fan playing for his boyhood club making financial sacrifices to help his own team. On the other, he's a guy who wants to take the Supercopa to Saudi Arabia to earn some extra money on the side."

Other corners also question the real need for Pique to earn additional cash after having enjoyed a near two-decade career in elite football while married to mega-rich Colombian pop star Shakira.

After having organized the Davis Cup in tennis and taking over FC Andorra while forming Kosmos, however, Pique clearly has interests beyond the pitch and fancies himself as a businessman.

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