Three-Champions League winner Gerard Pique has admitted that his career would have been vastly different had he not joined Manchester United as a 17-year-old, revealing that he learned a lot under Sir Alex Ferguson.
Barcelona and the club's famed La Masia academy was all Pique had ever known before he made the switch to Manchester in 2004. By his own admission in a post for The Players' Tribune, he was 'almost f*cked' because he was so green and sheltered.
"I look back on the last 10 years of my career, and I've won the World Cup, the Champions League, La Liga, Copa del Rey…I've won it all, as I like to remind my Madrid friends on WhatsApp," he said.
"But 10 years ago, I was almost f*cked. My whole life could have turned out very different if it wasn't for Sir Alex Ferguson.
"I arrived at Manchester United a boy, and I left a man. It was a crazy time for me, because I had never been away from home before. I spent my first 17 years growing up in Spain in Barcelona's youth academy, and it almost felt like I was playing for the local school team or something. I knew everybody there, and I was close to my family.
"To me, football was just fun. I didn't understand the business side of the game at all. Then I arrived at United, and honestly, it was a complete shock."
Having never played for the Barça first-team before he left home, Pique took his first steps in professional football at United, making his debut against lower league Crewe Alexandra in the League Cup and playing three times by the end of the 2004/05 season.
Pique returned to Spain on loan to play for Real Zaragoza in 2006/07, before playing 13 times as United completed a Premier League and Champions League double in 2007/08.
"Sir Alex was phenomenal to me from the very first day," he recalled.
"The best managers all have this quality - even when they're not playing you, and even when they're hard on you - they make you believe that they really care about you. Sir Alex was like a second father to me. He made me earn it, but eventually he gave me my chance."
The standards at United were incredibly high and it wasn't just Ferguson who upheld them, as Pique found out when, at the age of 18, he was berated by Roy Keane when his phone had rung in the dressing room before one of his very first games at Old Trafford.
"I was nervous as hell. Imagine it - I'm 18 years old, and I'm sitting in that little dressing room putting on my socks next to Ruud van Nistelrooy and Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand. I wanted to be invisible. I was thinking, Just do your job and go unnoticed," Pique said.
"We're sitting there waiting for the gaffer to come in and speak to us, and I'm literally sitting right next to Roy Keane. The dressing room is so small that our legs are almost touching. There's no space at all. It's dead quiet. All of a sudden, you could hear this little vibration.
"I realise it's my phone. I left it on vibrate, and it's in the pocket of my pants, stuffed in the clothes bag that's hanging right behind Roy's head.
"Roy can't find where the noise is coming from. Now he's looking around the room like a maniac. His eyes are darting everywhere, and he's trying to figure it out. He looked like Jack Nicholson in The Shining, when he bursts through the door.
"He screams out to everybody, 'Whose phone is that?!' Silence. He asks again. Silence. He asks a third time. 'Whose. Bloody. F*cking. Phone. Is. That?!'
"Finally, I spoke up, like a little boy. Very softly, I said, 'I'm so sorry. It's mine. Roy lost his mind! He went nuts in front of everybody! It was incredible. I almost sh*t myself. But it was a good lesson.
"Now, in 2018, everything is different. All these kids are on their iPhones before the matches. But back then it was a different world. You didn't do that. Especially not at United. Not in Roy's dressing room. It was one of a thousand mistakes that I made when I was at United."
To read Spain and Barcelona defender Gerard Piqué's inaugural post on The Players' Tribune, 'A Long Story', in full, please visit: https://www.theplayerstribune.com/en-us/articles/gerard-pique-a-long-story.
The Players' Tribune connects players with fans through the power of storytelling and has today announced its global expansion in partnership with Pique.