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The defender has upset his coach after failing to obey club rules this season, but his long-term future at Camp Nou is intact as he is expected to succeed Carles Puyol as skipper

EXCLUSIVE
By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Editor

Gerard Pique has been assured of his Barcelona future and is being groomed as a future captain at the Catalan club, despite rumours that he could leave this summer following a fall-out with coach Pep Guardiola.

The 24-year-old defender has been left out of the starting XI in key games this season, even when Barcelona have had injuries, and has been excluded from the matchday squad on occasions as well.

Reports in Spain on Monday suggested that Barca boss Pep Guardiola would allow the defender to leave at the end of the current campaign, but club president Sandro Rosell called those stories 'slander'. Furthermore, the Catalan coach himself has previously insisted that Pique remains an important part of his plans.

"Pique knows I think highly of him," Guardiola explained after leaving his defender in the stands for the club's recent Champions League match with Bayer Leverkusen in Germany. "He is untouchable and hugely important for us."

However, Pique's exclusion for the game at BayArena was the latest in a series of wake-up calls for the Barca defender, who has angered his coach this season due to indiscipline off the pitch.

"It all started in the summer," a source close to Barcelona told Goal.com.

"Pique was pictured [white-water] rafting [with girlfriend Shakira] and the players know they are not allowed to partake in such activities - it is forbidden by the club.

"Guardiola was furious, not just because it is forbidden but also because the pictures appeared on Facebook."


Making waves | Guardiola is unhappy at some of Pique's extra-curricular activities

Shakira posted pictures on the social networking site, while Pique added a video on Twitter and further upset his club by revealing the two had escaped unhurt in an accident on the raft.

"Because of Shakira's lack of coordination while paddling, we fell into the water! White-water rafting is so much fun!" the defender wrote.

But Guardiola failed to see the humorous side and there were also concerns about the defender's physical condition as he tore his hamstring in August and missed the start of the season.

Pique returned in October, but suffered a fresh injury in the 3-0 win over Racing Santander and when he came back again, doubts remained over his form and fitness.

The defender was left on the bench for the vital Champions League clash with AC Milan in November as the coach fielded a three-man back line and entrusted midfielder Javier Mascherano with the central position.

Pique had been excited at the prospect of playing at San Siro, but Guardiola remained unconvinced by his player's level of concentration and decided to leave him out of the starting XI.

"Guardiola demands maximum concentration, especially in these matches, and if he thinks any of his players fall below that, they will be left out," our source revealed.


Pique had been excited at the prospect of playing at San Siro, but Guardiola remained unconvinced by his player's level of concentration and decided to leave him out of the starting XI


After that things gradually returned to normal, and Pique started a number of games before Christmas, including the 3-1 win at Real Madrid. But the defender angered his coach once again over the holidays after he and Shakira were pictured on a jet ski in Miami.

"He knew it was forbidden," our source said. "He has it in his contract and he had also been warned in the summer, but again these pictures emerged and the club were not happy at all."

Pique was left on the bench for Barca's first league game of 2012, a 4-2 win over Betis, but faced Madrid in the Copa del Rey quarter-finals and looked to be back in favour.

However, the defender has looked off the pace in recent matches and appears to be some way off his optimum physical condition as well. He was also sent off in a profligate performance in the 3-1 win at Sporting Gijon 10 days ago.

Pique was then left out of the Champions League last-16 first-leg match at Leverkusen, having left his car in a bus lane with the door open on his way to Camp Nou the day before, and seen the door torn off by a passing vehicle.

"That's why he didn't play in Germany," the source told us. "The thinking was: if he could allow himself to be so distracted in public, what we would he be capable of on the pitch?"


If he could allow himself to be so distracted in public, what would he be capable of on the pitch?


A trip to the go-kart track to celebrate his birthday (February 2, the same day as Shakira) also displeased Barca. Sporting director Andoni Zubizarreta has spoken privately with the player's father to stress the importance of concentration and professionalism away from the pitch, while reassuring his family that the player remains a key part of the club's long-term project.

"He is only young and all of this is for his benefit - he will learn," our source said.

"There is no question of him leaving and he has been reassured he has a long-term future at the club. Pique will be captain of Barcelona one day; he is considered to be the long-term successor to [Carles] Puyol.

"And he can be an even better captain than Puyol, but he must assume more responsibility."

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