Gerard Pique kept his composure until he began to tell the 92,000 crowd how much he loved his boyhood club.
Then, the tears flowed uncontrollably for the 35-year-old Barcelona defender and multi-trophy winner as it sunk in that he would never play for his home fans again.
Pique played his last match at Camp Nou on Saturday, making his 616th appearance for Barcelona in a farewell that was sweetened by a commanding 2-0 win over Almeria that lifted the hosts to the top of the Spanish league.
He was applauded after the first touches he made and when he was substituted late on. He hugged each of his teammates and waved to the crowd, which gave him a standing ovation.
After taking a lap of honour around Europe’s biggest soccer stadium, Pique took up a microphone to say that he plans to return to the club in the future, but not as a player. In the past, he has said that one day he may consider running for club president.
“In life, when you grow up, sometimes to love is to let go,” he said before breaking down.
“There is so much love, so much passion between Barca and me that it was time to give us some space, some air, and I am convinced that in the future I will be back.
“My grandfather made me a club member the day I was born. I was born here and will die here. Long live Barca forever.”
Pique, a world and European champion with Spain and a three-time Champions League winner with Barcelona, made the unexpected announcement this week that this would be the final home game of his 14-year career with the Catalan club.
After Robert Lewandowski missed an early penalty, Ousmane Dembele opened the scoring against the outclassed Almeria in the 48th minute and Frenkie de Jong put the result beyond doubt in the 62nd.
The win lifted coach Xavi Hernandez’s side two points ahead of Real Madrid before they play at Rayo Vallecano on Monday.
A skilled passer and scorer from his position of centreback, Pique was a part of Barcelona’s most storied teams alongside Xavi, Lionel Messi and Andres Iniesta. He helped Barcelona win 30 titles, including eight Spanish leagues and seven Copa del Rey crowns.
But with the arrival of Jules Kounde, Andreas Christensen and Marcos Alonso this summer, Xavi demoted Pique to a rarely used back up for the first time in his career.
“Gerard leaves a spectacular legacy behind,” said teammate Sergio Busquets, who is now the only remaining member of the best Barcelona teams of former coach Pep Guardiola. “He is an example of what a Barcelona player should be.”
Osasuna’s Chimy Avila scored twice to lead Osasuna to a 2-1 win at Celta Vigo and spoil the debut of Carlos Carvalhal in the Portuguese coach’s first match since replacing the fired Eduardo Coudet.
Valladolid beat last-place Elche 2-1, while Getafe drew 0-0 with Cadiz.