|VIEW FROM SPAIN
|By Ben Hayward in Barcelona
Gerard Pique has been below his best for some time now and the defender’s poor performances proved a cause for concern at Camp Nou, but the Spain center back has regained some of his sharpness in recent weeks, and his impeccable display at Atletico Madrid on Saturday night was his finest in recent memory.
Pique is out of contract in 2015 and Barca, having recently renewed Andres Iniesta's terms, has now switched its attention to the defense.
The Catalans are close to signing German goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen as a replacement for Victor Valdes, who will leave in the summer, and are also in talks with both Marc Bartra and Martin Montoya over new deals - with both players out of contract in June.
With captain Carles Puyol reaching the twilight of his career, Barca sees Pique as its defensive lynchpin for years to come and also a possible skipper to succeed his veteran central defensive partner in the future.
Barcelona has offered to pay the defender 7 million euros a year after tax, reflecting his status as a first choice for both the Spanish champions and his national team.
The Premier League trio all made informal approaches to gauge whether Pique could be tempted back to England after he left Old Trafford for Catalunya in 2009 but received indications he would not consider a move away from Barca.
"No club in the world had a single chance," a close friend told Goal. "Gerard belongs to Barcelona."
The terms of the new contract - one of the most generous ever awarded to a defender - are also the product of internal pressure to improve the salaries of Barca's key players caused by Neymar's hugely expensive acquisition from Santos.
Though Neymar's personal terms were structured in a fashion that Barca could present his base salary as 7m euro net, other payments to the Brazilian and his family inflated his effective earnings well beyond that sum.
In June, Barcelona vice president Josep Maria Bartomeu announced that the club had paid 57m euro to Santos, and three companies - DIS Esporte, Terceira Estrela Investimentos and N&N - for Neymar. The forward's father owns N&N, which is understood to have received 40m euro of that outlay. Barca had already spent 10m euro in December 2011 to acquire a first option on Neymar's transfer from Brazil.
The transaction has proved so controversial that it is currently under investigation by the Spanish state. "The prosecutor’s decision puts in doubt an impeccable business operation that has allowed FCB to obtain, for 57m euro, a player who is the envy of all our competitors," Barcelona said in a statement.
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