Madrid: Barcelona defender Gerard Pique on Monday lashed out at critics of Real Madrid coach Jose Mourinho who let him "get away with anything" when he was leading the team to victories.
In August 2011, for example, Mourinho jabbed his finger into the eye of Barcelona coach Tito Vilanova in full view of the cameras during a row in the final moments of Real Madrid's Super Cup loss to Barcelona, Pique recalled.
"I think it's funny because I remember when Madrid were winning they let Mou get away with anything. He came here and poked his finger in Tito's eye. He was sanctioned with how many matches? None," the defender told a news conference.
The Real Madrid coach initially was suspended for two matches over the eye-poke. Vilanova, who was then assistant coach of Barcelona, was suspended at the same time for one match after he retaliated with a slap. Both sanctions were later lifted.
The Portuguese self-anointed "Special One" is now heavily criticised in the sporting press as Real Madrid lag 18 points behind La Liga leaders Barcelona.
In particular, Mourinho has been hauled over the coals for recently benching Spain and Real Madrid captain Iker Casillas, and for reportedly telling a sports journalist from Radio Marca he was a "crappy reporter".
"Now that Mourinho is going after Iker, now that he has taken a journalist aside, they criticise him. Mourinho has always been like that. I don't think the press has to be like that, and I say the same for the Barcelona press," Pique said.
Barcelona, who have now won 18 out of their first 19 La Liga matches, conceding only one draw, still have room to improve, Pique said.
"When we won the triple (2008-2009) it seemed like we had reached the top but two years later we got better. We played better," he said, recalling their 3-1 Champions League final victory over Manchester United in May 2011.
"We have to keep getting better, seeking new challenges. I think we are getting back to a very, very good level," Pique said.