Not giving in to critics, Pique commits to Spain

Spain and Barcelona defender Gerard Pique in a news conference at the training grounds in Las Rozas yesterday. He insists that he does not back either side in the Catalonia independence debate.
Spain and Barcelona defender Gerard Pique in a news conference at the training grounds in Las Rozas yesterday. He insists that he does not back either side in the Catalonia independence debate.PHOTO: REUTERS

BARCELONA • Defender Gerard Pique said yesterday that he considered quitting the Spanish national team over criticism for his views on the Catalan independence referendum but decided against it because it would play into the hands of his detractors.

The Barcelona centre-back was jeered in an open training session with Spain on Monday, a day after he broke down in tears following the violent incidents in his home region as police tried to prevent would-be voters from taking part in the banned referendum.

The defender, who voted on Sunday, suggested then that he would be open to walking away from international football if coach Julen Lopetegui or his team-mates felt uncomfortable with his presence.

But yesterday he said he was fully committed to the team.

"I considered it (quitting the Spain team) but in the end, you have to evaluate every option and after thinking about it for a long time, I decided not to leave now as it would be letting the people who insult me win," he told a news conference.

"I believe the people who boo me are a minority and I don't want to give them the luxury of quitting. I have every confidence that there are many people, including in this group, who want me to stay and help the team win matches."

The 30-year-old has played 91 games for Spain and won the 2010 World Cup and 2012 European Championship.

Spain play Albania tomorrow, when a win could seal their place in next year's World Cup in Russia.

Pique announced last year his intention to retire from international football after the tournament, due to a combination of repeated criticism from the media and supporters and to give other players an opportunity.

"It's impossible to doubt my commitment to the national team, I've been coming here since I was 15, I consider this to be my family. I'm proud to play for Spain and it hurts me that people doubt that," he said.

Pique also reiterated that he has never spoken out in favour of Catalan independence, and simply supports the right of his home region to decide on its own future.

He said: "I'm not an activist. People have advised me not to talk about politics but I never put myself on one side or the other, all I said was that we should vote."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 05, 2017, with the headline 'Not giving in to critics, Pique commits to Spain'. Print Edition | Subscribe