Gerard Pique is delighted to see ex-Manchester United team-mate Ole Gunnar Solskjaer flourishing at Old Trafford – but the Barcelona defender is determined to kill off his former club’s Champions League dreams on Wednesday.
Widely considered to be one of the greatest defenders in the world, the 31-year-old made his first steps in the professional game in the north west over a period that he remains eternally grateful for.
Pique joined from Barca aged 17 and went from a boy to a man at United, learning a lot on the field and off it before returning to the LaLiga giants in 2008.
Solskjaer was one of the senior pros as the centre-back came through the ranks and the Barca defender has been impressed by the work being done by someone he looked up to.
“I remember him as a great team-mate when I arrived here,” Pique said.
“I was 17, very young and he was one of the veterans and, for sure, he helped me a lot to adapt to the club, to the country, to the city.
“He was at the end of his career and he had some problems with his injuries, but when you were training with him you could see he had that quality to score goals.
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“It was a great experience playing alongside him. He helped me a lot and I’m very happy to see him in now charge of the club, of Manchester United.
“He is doing a great job since he took charge of the team.
“They have won a lot of games, they are playing much better and tomorrow is going to be a tough game and I hope we can win.”
Solskjaer recalled playing with Pique in the Premier Reserve League play-off final in 2006, when they scored a goal apiece as they beat Tottenham 2-0.
The United boss called the defender a “fantastic boy” and has enjoyed watching his progress over the years, joking that one of his only issues was a fear of needles.
“Yeah, that’s true!” Pique said with a laugh.
“I mean, I hate that. “Since I was young, I really hated needles and I didn’t know he remembered about it.”
Pique clearly made a lasting impression Solskjaer, just as United have on him.
“It’s something lovely because the fans are fantastic,” the defender said ahead of stepping out at Old Trafford for the first time since leaving in 2008.
“It’s the same if it’s Champions League or a league game or playing against a fourth division side – the fans are always cheering if you lose or you win.
“It’s a different culture. You can see that both on and off the pitch. The fans are into their team.
“I’ve always said that the English culture, I think we could learn a lot from them and one of the things would be this instance.”
But Pique’s appreciation for United will be replaced by a steely resolve to hurt them on Wednesday.
The 31-year-old has been impressed by the never-say-die attitude brought back by Solskjaer, pointing to the way they made Champions League history by overcoming a 2-0 home loss to beat Paris St Germain 3-1 in the round of 16.
“I think the PSG tie is a great example,” Pique said. “I watched both games and here I think PSG first half was better, second half they scored and they could have scored some more goals.
“But you cannot leave Manchester United alive.
“If you can beat them scoring a lot of goals, you have to do it because they have great team, great history and they have shown in the second leg in Paris, even though they played with a lot of young lads from the academy, they won, they qualified in the last minute.
“It’s a great example for us, we have to be very concentrated from the first minute to last minute of the tie.
“We know that Manchester United are very dangerous and that we have to play our best game to qualify.”