FROM STEVE BRENNER IN NEW YORK
GERARD PIQUE admitted he had to cheekily trick Barcelona boss Ernesto Valverde to launch his business career – and used Sir Alex Ferguson for inspiration.
The Spanish defender, 32, is part of the business transforming tennis’ Davis Cup this year and had to go to Florida for a crucial vote last summer.
But in order to get to Orlando, he had to try and convince his manager to let him go – despite the new season getting underway.
The former Manchester United ace smiled: “Before we beat Seville in the Super Cup in Morocco in August 2018, I had to speak to the manager.
“Four days after the match I needed to be in Florida for a big vote about the Davis Cup.
“I went to him and I said, ‘Listen, Ernesto I need to go to the vote because there are a few federations in doubt and I think my presence there will help to approve the new format.’
“I didn’t want to tell him it was in Orlando because it was a big flight! I hoped he would say yes and then I could tell him it was in Orlando.
“He said we’d have to talk about it but he didn’t say no. He didn’t say yes either.
“We won 2-1 and I scored so I went back and said: ‘Ernesto, remember I told you about that trip, can I go? I have to miss one training session but I can assure you we will win the next league game, don’t worry about that.’
“He said, ‘Okay, you can go.’ I don’t know if it was because I scored and we won the competition but the good thing is he said yes.”
And then, Pique dropped the bombshell.
The Spanish World Cup winner continued: “He asked where it was and when I told him Orlando, he said there was no chance.
“He said the flight was too long but I said to him ‘I will come back and we will win’.
“I went to America, the federation approved the plans with 71 per cent of the vote, I returned and we beat Alaves in La Liga 3-0.
“Everything was fine. But yeah, at the time, he was very surprised.”
Pique quit playing for Spain last year and although he remains a key star for Barcelona, the stopper is already planning for life after football.
Moving into the dugout and emulating mentor Ferguson isn’t on the agenda, though.
Pique, who helped create sports entertainment company Kosmos, wants to be a businessman, dipping his toes in everything from sport to music, where missus Shakira can definitely point him in the right direction.
He’s seen the likes of Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard become top level bosses – but it’s not for him.
Using the lessons learned by Fergie, however, have helped shape his vision.
Pique added: “It makes total sense for the sport that these players are now becoming young managers but I like going the other way, more as an entrepreneur or a businessman.
“I don’t want to deal with 24 players who all have egos and want to play. It’s kinda difficult. It can obviously be a great experience but I don’t see myself right now in that position. I prefer to go another way in my life when I retire.
“Alex Fergsuon was like a second father to me when I arrived at Manchester United because I was very young, only 17 years old, and I had left my family and friends in Barcelona.
“It was the toughest decision of my life but he helped me a lot and the way he deals with the pressure, with people, with everyone at the club.
“I learned from him every day about how to deal with all the issues that a club like United has on a daily basis. I’m still in contact with him and when I see him we have great conversations around different things in life.
“I obviously learned a lot from him. And I remember just how much he loved tennis too.”
The Davis Cup, famously won by an Andy Murray inspired Great Britain in 2015, is normally spread out across the whole year.
But with top players like Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal not always available to pump up interest, a fresh format was drawn up.
Pique’s idea is to instead stage a one-week event with 18 top countries battling it out to be crowned champions.
The plans are controversial with the likes of Swiss legend Federer initially turning his nose up at a footballer treading on tennis‘ toes.
Australian legend Lleyton Hewitt reckons the changes are “ridiculous” and the equivalent of him trying to “change the Champions League”.
“When you have a dream you have to push as much as you can to make it happen and with this passion you can convince people.
“This is the project of my life.”