Gerard Pique has reiterated his desire to see out the remainder of his career at Barcelona, but suggested he will consider retiring early if he is no longer a regular starter.
The ex-Spain international is into his 14th season at Camp Nou since returning to the club from Manchester United in 2008 and remains a key presence at the back.
Pique turns 35 in February but is confident in his ability to keep going, despite competition from Ronald Araujo, Eric Garcia, Clement Lenglet and Samuel Umtiti.
“I’ve never had competition like that, but it is not a bad thing,” he told El Pais. “As a young man you learn at what level you can compete.
“When I was 19 and on loan at Real Zaragoza I discovered that I could perform in LaLiga against the greats.
“At 34 you know what level you are at and whether you’re going to play.
“The debate over ‘veterans’ and youngsters is created by the media and extends to the fans.
“It’s like with the national team when there was a campaign about whether Pique should be there or not – that’s where the whistles generated from.
“As some of us who have been here for many years know, it’s good to see new people. I understand youngsters are the attraction because they’re the future and it’s a project.
“But older players are necessary, and I’m not just saying that because I’m the oldest. I have the experience of having lived through a lot and can pass that on.”
Pique proved his importance to Barca with the winning goal in Wednesday’s 1-0 victory over Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League.
At 34 years and 260 days at the time of the goal, that saw the centre-back surpass Sylvinho (34d, 241y) as the oldest player to score for Barca in the competition.
He is also now also the joint-leading goalscorer among defenders in Champions League history, level with Real Madrid icon Roberto Carlos (16 each).
“The truth is I don’t feel like a ‘veteran’,” Pique said. “The other day I saw the record I was the oldest European scorer for Barca and that depressed me a little.
“But then I saw Roberto Carlos was the defender I’m level with for most goals and that was better.
“Of course, if I reach an age that I’m no longer considered as important as I’ve previously been, I will go.
“But I still have my rebellious side, I still make the same jokes and I feel physically well.
“I’m not the fastest, but I can compete against the best and not feel inferior. As long as it remains like that, I’ll play.”
Asked if that means he may consider joining another club before retiring should he fall out of favour at Camp Nou, Pique said: “I will retire at Barca. That is for sure.
“What I won’t accept is playing as a substitute. If it comes to the last three months of a season and that happens, well… But a whole year on the bench? No, I don’t want that.”
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