MADRID • Barcelona's Catalan defender Gerard Pique was targeted by angry Spain fans on Monday, as he took part in an open training session with the national team the day after the Catalonia independence referendum.
The centre-back, who voted in the referendum and has criticised police violence against voters which resulted in hundreds of injuries, has long been targeted by Spain fans but Monday's barrage of insults was particularly severe.
Spain fans at the Las Rozas training facility in Madrid jeered, whistled and chanted at him to leave the team, who are preparing for two World Cup qualifiers. They also brandished banners with insults aimed at him. Spanish media reported that police confiscated some of the banners, including one describing Pique as "sickening".
"The behaviour of Gerard has been exceptional," coach Julen Lopetegui told Spanish radio station Cadena Cope. "I wanted to see how he was and I saw he was motivated and enthusiastic. He's well and fired up. If it were not like that he wouldn't be with me."
Lopetegui, who on Monday called up 36-year-old Athletic Bilbao striker Aritz Aduriz to replace the injured Alvaro Morata, defended the decision to hold the training session in public.
"The fans have the right to express themselves," he added. "I know the situation is unpleasant, but I ask people for a little reason and sanity."
Thiago Alcantara said he was saddened by the fans' actions.
"When I've come (to the Spain camp) Pique has always had the same attitude, commitment and happiness," the Bayern Munich midfielder said yesterday.
"(The situation) saddens us because we come here to talk about football, I'm not here to talk about the life of anybody."
Pique said on Sunday he would leave the national team if asked to by Lopetegui or the Royal Spanish Football Federation.
The 30-year-old has already announced that he will retire from international duty after the 2018 World Cup in Russia, having grown tired of being criticised by Spain supporters for his outspoken comments against Real Madrid. He has played 91 times for his country and was a member of the squad that won the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championship.
Group G leaders Spain, three points clear of second-placed Italy, are aiming to seal a place at the Finals in qualifiers at home to Albania on Friday and away to Israel three days later.