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Gerard Pique channels 1989 Michigan NCAA tournament run amid Spain turmoil

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Gerard Pique wants his team – and fans – to know that the turmoil surrounding the leadership of the Spanish national team is bringing the squad together not tearing it apart.

Also, he knows there’s precedent for the situation they’re in.

Pique posted on Twitter that they’re channeling the 1989 Michigan Wolverines basketball team that won the NCAA Tournament under interim head coach Steve Fisher. Pique seems well versed in the American sports comeback story.

Pique’s tweet reads, “University of Michigan. Basketball. 1989. NCAA Champion. It wouldn’t be the first time it happened. All together, now more than ever.”

Just prior to the 1989 NCAA Tournament, Michigan basketball coach Bill Frieder announced he had accepted a position as the head coach of Arizona State – a position which he would take at the conclusion of the NCAA Tournament. Michigan athletic director Bo Schembechler was so angry at the announcement that he fired Frieder on the spot, and hired top assistant Fisher to take his place and coach the tournament. The Wolverines went on to win the entire thing, toppling 2-seed North Carolina, 1-seed Illinois, and 3-seed Seton Hall on the way, winning the title by a single point in overtime over the Pirates.

Upon the coaching change, Schembechler announced, “a Michigan man is going to coach a Michigan team,” spawning the popular phrase “Michigan man.” Spain’s interim coach Fernando Hierro is certainly a “Spanish man” himself, having appeared 89 times for the Spanish national team in his playing days, scoring 29 goals as a defender and appearing in four World Cups.

Barcelona handles Roma with own goal help

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  • Roma concedes two own goals
  • Pique nabs Barca’s third
  • Dzeko nabs late away goal
  • Second leg April 10 at Stadio Olimpico

You’d be forgiven if you had “Daniele De Rossi own goal” as the way Barca would open the scoring just before halftime.

But that’s just one of two own goals Barcelona used to build a 4-1 lead on AS Roma with a UEFA Champions League quarterfinal first leg win at the Camp Nou on Wednesday.

Gerard Pique and Luis Suarez scored Barca’s other goals, while Edin Dzeko nabbed an away goal late to give Roma hope ahead of Tuesday’s second leg.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

It was a fellow UCL mainstay, Andres Iniesta, whose cross was diverted into the Roma goal by De Rossi.

Roma wanted a penalty kick when Samuel Umtiti chopped down Lorenzo Pellegrini on the edge of the 18, but only a free kick arrived for i Lupi.

Alessandro Florenzi almost cued Diego Perotti up for an equalizer in the first second half minute, but the latter’s header zipped wide of the goal.

Umtiti forced Kostas Manolas into an own goal before Pique gave Barca its first proper goal of the match five minutes later. It was 3-0 in the 59th minute.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Pique finds solidarity with criticized NBA players

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There have been a number of outstanding pieces in The Players’ Tribune since its launch, but few as colorful and entertaining as Thursday’s entry from Gerard Pique.

The Barcelona star center back spilled the beans on any number of funny stories in his post, from Roy Keane’s cell phone anger and Sir Alex Ferguson‘s guiding hand to Lionel Messi’s greatness and more.

[ MORE: Zlatan in MLS an auto success ]

But perhaps most interesting was his take on the grief he’s received for supporting the vote for Catalan independence. Pique points out that he’s been proud to represent the Spanish national team, but won’t veer from his democratic beliefs.

And guess what? Even in Spain, athletes rightly bristle at the “Stick to Sports” crowd.

It’s funny, I noticed some people in America have started telling the NBA players to “just shut up and dribble” when they express their opinions on real problems in society.

It’s ridiculous, no?

It’s the same here in Spain. They say, “Just shut up and play football. It’s all you know.”

Sorry, but I will not just shut up and play. It’s not all I know. There’s a lot more depth to footballers than most people realize, and I think it’s important that we express ourselves and our views.

Gerard Pique signs new Barcelona deal

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Gerard Pique has signed a new contract at Barcelona which keeps him at the club until 2022.

[ MORE: La Liga scores, schedule

Pique, 30, joined Barcelona in 2008 from Manchester United after leaving his boyhood club Barca in 2004 to join United’s youth team.

The new release clause in Pique’s contract is $610 million, with the Spanish international set to spend the rest of his career at the Nou Camp. The center back, who has won 25 major trophies with Barca, was delighted to nail down his future to his hometown team.

Pique has played in 422 games for Barca and scored 37 goals with the flamboyant defender a mainstay for much of the last decade.

Breaking out of the back line with surging runs and assured passing, Pique will go down as one of the greatest defenders in Barcelona and Spain’s history when he hangs up his boots.

In a team where the supreme attacking talent is always praised, it’s easy to overlook the achievements of Pique and his fellow defenders in the Catalan capital. However, there’s no doubt his composure on the ball, reading of the game and ability in the air makes him one of the top center backs on the planet.

Pique booed relentlessly by Spanish fans in win

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Spare a thought for Gerard Pique.

Barcelona’s outspoken center back has spoken up for Catalan independence in Spain, and backed Catalonia after police confronted hopeful voters this weekend.

That led to his offering to withdraw from Spanish national team duty, and his being booed by fans at a training session.

[ MORE: UEFA World Cup qualifying wrap ]

That continued Friday, when Pique should’ve been enjoying Spain clinching a World Cup berth with a controlling 3-0 win over visiting and desperate Albania.

Pique was booed or whistled nearly every time he touched the ball.

To add insult, there were myriad reports Friday that Pique and longtime partner Shakira were splitting up (though these stories are not unusual and have been refuted).