Gerard Pique's Barcelona roots may run deep, but he hasn't let those allegiances prevent him paying a major compliment to Real Madrid rival Cristiano Ronaldo, whom he has named as one of his toughest opponents.
The Spain defender spoke in a video hosted by Unscriptd prior to April's El Clasico derby, and he confessed the attacking trio of Ronaldo, Robert Lewandowski and Didier Drogba were his most difficult foes (h/t MailOnline's Adam Smith):
One of them was Drogba - one of the best strikers I have seen. He had everything. Pace, really strong, good in the air - he was amazing.
The other one was Cristiano Ronaldo. I had to face him a lot of times and he's one of the best players in history. He's really complete, he knows how to score, assist, shoot free-kicks, penalties. He can do everything.
Lewandowski is another. He's tall, can use both legs. It's really hard to mark this kind of player. You don't know what they will do.
You can view the Unscriptd interview in full here, where Pique gushes over the quality of his former Manchester United team-mate:
Barcelona's Gerard Piqué has defended a lot of strikers, but these are the 3 toughest ones he’s ever faced https://t.co/yOVdZr2ZMz— Unscriptd (@UnscriptdSport) March 21, 2016
Ronaldo will take those comments as a big compliment ahead of the April 2 collision between the two Spanish giants, but Pique will feel confident of repelling the Real talisman after thrashing his side 4-0 in November's reverse fixture.
However, the Guardian's Sid Lowe professed that Pique was fortunate to be available for next month's Clasico after managing to escape a sending off in Sunday's 2-2 draw against Villarreal:
Significance of Piqué escaping second yellow (wrongly) seen by what happened when he went off. And it would have meant clasico suspension.— Sid Lowe (@sidlowe) March 20, 2016
The central defender has been an ever-present figure in the Blaugrana lineup since returning to the Camp Nou from Manchester United in 2008, which has seen him face off against some of the finest players in the world.
While Ronaldo may have been among Pique's greatest challenges in the past, there's reason to argue the Portugal captain, now 31, is some way past his peak. Guardian writer Michael Cox pointed him out as the quietest player in attack for Real during Sunday's 4-0 win over Sevilla, despite getting on the scoresheet:
Bale really good for Real Madrid tonight. Benzema too. Ronaldo the quietest of the three...— Michael Cox (@Zonal_Marking) March 20, 2016
The relationship between Pique and rivals Real Madrid hasn't always been so amicable, however, and Barcelona's outspoken totem has often led any verbal exchanges coming from the Camp Nou.
Pique posted an unambiguous, emoticon-filled tweet in December after it was revealed Los Merengues would be ejected from the Copa del Rey for fielding the ineligible Denis Cheryshev in the 3-1 win over Cadiz:
😂😂😂😭😭😭😂😂😂— Gerard Piqué (@3gerardpique) December 2, 2015
That reaction led to a war of words with Spain team-mate and Real defender Alvaro Arbeloa, according to Goal.com's Chris Davie, but Ronaldo is the foe Pique will be keeping an eye out for in just under a fortnight's time.
Los Blancos will travel to Catalonia in third place and a gargantuan 10 places off leaders Barca, where defeat will mean surrendering a league double to their most bitter foes and most likely the end of any title hopes.
Even with so much at stake, Pique can't help but admit his impending opponent as one of the best players he's come across in a glittering career, but he'll find out if Ronaldo remains such a potent threat come April 2.