Leadership is an example

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should is an adage that applies to so many things in life. Tenure and accomplishment grant leeway. What a person does with those things is illustrative, and sets an example.

In an El Pais interview, Gerard Pique said, in a translated quote:

“I barely get four of five hours of sleep. There’s not enough time for everything. The club understand and there are no problems. I dedicate my spare time to what I like.”

Is there really a purer illustration of what’s wrong at the club at both sporting and institutional levels, than that quote? In the Levante loss, when Pique was guilty of significant lapses of concentration and effort, some things came into sharp focus. From a practical aspect, a world-class athlete getting four or five hours of sleep per night is unsustainable, and ineffective. We have friends who boast that they can get along perfectly well on that little sleep. They aren’t key players for one of the biggest football clubs in the world.

As an athlete, albeit an aged one, without at least six hours of quality sleep, preferably eight, my performance is diminished. Always has been. With all of the studies that have been performed on athletes of all levels regarding sleep, rest and performance, it is astonishing that a player at Pique’s level would think that such a thing is acceptable.

The other thing is that you don’t “catch up” on sleep, to deal with another misnomer about extended periods of crappy rest. From a purely performance-based aspect, getting four or five hours of sleep a night is a non-starter. That is also the least of the issues with Pique and his comments.

Imagine Ousmane Dembele or Antoine Griezmann making that same quote. Dembele was under fire for staying up late, playing video games with his friends. He was late to one practice, allegedly because of this. Arturo Vidal called him out in a recent interview for not doing the things necessary to succeed, not eating and sleeping football. What might Vidal think of the Pique comments?

Level of accomplishment gives leeway, many think. It shouldn’t. Not when a team is playing like Barça is, and not when senior players are supposed to be leaders, not only on the pitch, but off it. Imagine Carles Puyol saying something like this. Imagine someone on the team saying something like this with Puyol as the captain. That Pique felt enabled to casually toss it off in an interview means that everything about the team right now isn’t dedicated to excellence. Dembele’s sleep, Dembele’s diet, Dembele’s training. What is the example he’s learning from? A senior player who jets off for Davis Cup business commitments, who says in a public interview that he doesn’t do what is necessary to perform at his peak, and that further, the club is okay with it.

Double standards aren’t fair, and neither is life. But this should be unacceptable at every level. Did Pique get messsages from Messi, from Suarez, from other teammates wondering why they’re working at their maximum? What does Valverde think of this? Presumably not much, if it’s all “fine with the club.”

Nothing about that kind of attitude should be “fine” with anyone. Jean-Clair Todibo isn’t making squads, isn’t playing, even though every time he plays, he demonstrates the kinds of qualities on and off the ball that argue for more playing time. What does he think, reading and knowing that the man who is standing in his place isn’t doing the work to be and remain at his best, and is still being selected over him by a manager for whom everything is “fine.” What would you think?

The commitment at Barça this season isn’t what it should be. Key players aren’t doing what they are supposed to, which leads to breakdowns. Is the example being set by a key senior player a part of those difficulties? What kind of atmosphere makes it acceptable to publicly say such things? For a start, one in which a player such as that is untouchable, written in ink on the lineup card no matter what he does.

As a supporter, it’s discouraging to see such things, to see that a player who clearly is having performance and concentration problems says something like this, and says that it’s all okay with the club. It shouldn’t be. Not at Barça, not at any club. Neymar collecting yellows that allowed him to travel for his sister’s birthday used to cause a stir. This is another level, and one that should be dealt with by the club management, even if it won’t be. If it was going to be, if the kind of atmosphere existed where that sort of thing was indeed dealt with, would Pique be doing what he’s admitted to doing?

He’s right, in that his private time is his own. But when that private time is conducted in a way that appears to have an effect on his performances, then what? And what of the responsibility that senior players are supposed to set to newcomers and younger players? “When you grow up to be a key player of a team, you too can get four hours of sleep, travel for business stuff and do what you want.” What might a player who cost the club 140 million Euros think about price tags, the behavior of senior players and how that relates to entitlement?

Football is about now. Dembele doesn’t have the level of accomplishment of Pique, and almost certainly never will. But in the here and now, in a sport where tomorrow’s champion is today’s liability, what then? People scoff that Barça is now a “club de amigos,” that places are guaranteed irrespective of performance, and veterans know it. That is the kind of environment that leads to what we are seeing on the pitch. It’s a malaise that leads to rot, both sporting and institutional. The board, as long as the money is flowing, is cool with it. The team won on Saturday and is top of table, and leading its Champions League group, so rock on. Everything’s fine.

Except it isn’t. It’s bad, and getting worse, and if the stated attitude of a club icon such as Pique is indicative of anything, it’s going to be even worse before it gets better.

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In my fantasy life, I’m a Barca-crazed contributor over at Barcelona Football Blog. In my real life, I’m a full-time journalist at the Chicago Tribune, based in Chicago, Illinois.