Retiring Barcelona defender Gerard Pique said he felt liberated when coach Xavi Hernandez took him off in the 83rd minute of the 2-0 win over Almeria on Saturday as he walked off in tears to a standing ovation from a packed Camp Nou.
The 35-year-old Pique announced on Friday that this would be his last game in the historic stadium as he decided to retire from soccer when LaLiga breaks for the World Cup next week.
"It was like taking a heavy burden off my back when I walked off the pitch," Pique told DAZN. "The last few months were really difficult and today I felt liberated. It was a lifetime experience that I'll take forever with me.
"I'm happy for giving it all for this club. There were good and bad days, but I'm proud of it. I think I leave with a job well done."
Pique started the game as captain on Saturday in a season where he faced heavy criticism for his poor form and fell out of favour with coach Xavi Hernandez who reportedly asked him in the close season to leave or retire.
The signings of centre backs Andreas Christensen, Jules Kounde, Eric Garcia and the breakout of youngster Ronald Araujo has left Pique out of the picture at the age of 35.
There was the added pressure regarding his salary, reportedly the biggest at a club struggling financially and where every euro could affect their ability to sign or register new players facing the scrutiny of LaLiga's Financial Fair Play.
According to multiple reports, Pique will renounce the remaining year and half of his salary, a decision that will help Barcelona improve their Financial Fair Play margin.
"Pique was outstanding today and has once again shown that the bigger the game, the more it pays off," Xavi told DAZN. "I have told him that he is a legend at Barca and we are very grateful for his years at the club."
After the game, Pique was lifted in the air by his teammates and celebrated by the fans who chanted repeatedly "President! President! President!" as he is widely viewed in Barcelona as a future candidate to take over that post.
Regarded as one of the best centre backs of his generation, Pique collected 36 trophies in an 18-year career, including four Champions League titles plus a World Cup and European Championship with Spain.
But he is also a successful businessman, as the founder of Kosmos Holding, a company that has big investments in E-Sports, owns Spain's second division club FC Andorra and signed a 25-year, $3 billion partnership with the International Tennis Federation to transform the Davis Cup, among other investments.
In June Pique announced his separation from Colombian singer Shakira and in April he denied any wrongdoing over his involvement in helping the Spanish FA secure a deal to relocate Spain's Super Cup to Saudi Arabia, an agreement which earned his Kosmos company $23.41 million in commission.
"I have a thousand things in front of me to choose, I need to organise myself," Pique said.
"This is my home. I was born here and I will return. But now it's time to enjoy the family, I'll go on vacation for a while."