Sport Soccer

Thursday 26 April 2018

'Retiring would be a victory for those whistling' - Gerard Pique calms Spain row

Gerard Pique
Gerard Pique

Ed Malyon

"There will always be those who whistle me and those who jeer me."

But Gerard Pique on Wednesday moved to calm tensions within the Spanish football team and insisted that he will not be retiring from international football.

Fans at Spain's training camp had made clear their desire for Gerard Pique to quit the national team as the Barcelona defender returned to international duty the day after voting in the Catalan independence referendum.

He has previously been jeered by Spain fans at home games and on Sunday night had offered through teary eyes to quit the national team.

But an even more hostile reception awaited him at Las Rozas, Spain’s training base outside Madrid, on Monday where fans whistled, jeered and insulted him, with shouts of “son of a bitch” and then more organised chanting:

“Pique, arsehole, Spain is your country…. Pique, arsehole, leave the national team.”

Images of the defender were also vandalised across the country.

But having asked to address the press, a stern-looking Pique explained to packed press conference room that he was taking charge of this situation:

"First I wanted to say that I wanted to talk today so I can answer all your questions and we can sort this all out.

"The first open training session was difficult because obviously you don't like it when the people that usually support you are against you in such a way, with whistles and insults. But I think it's a challenge for me and it's up to me to turn it around. There are lots of people in Spain - and when I say Spain I mean all of it - that have always given me support and respect.

"The coach and my teammates have told me that they want me to be here so we're just focused on the next game, the objectives of the last year or so and we are nearly qualified so we need to focus on that and the three points.

"I've considered retiring as it would be easier for my teammates, but that would be a victory for those whistling.

"It's impossible to doubt my commitment to this team. I have fought for this team and they are like a family, the doctors, the players, the coaches. Being part of this national team is one of the best things that I have ever been part of and I am incredibly proud to have been part of this team. So don't doubt my commitment and know that I'm very proud to be part of this team.

"It's impossible that everyone thinks the same. There are lots of people in the country who think differently. There are people who think that the Catalans should be able to vote - to vote yes, to vote no, or to spoil a ballot paper - and there are others who don't think there should be a vote. Everyone has their own opinion.

"I think an independentist could play for Spain with no problems because there isn't a Catalan team.

"If there isn't a team in Catalonia then there isn't anyone else to even play for!

"To feel Catalan does not mean being anti-Spanish.

"All we want is for Spain to win, nothing more.

"I understand the approach of those who don't want to hear what I have to say because I am a footballer but I am a person first. I have problems, personal or professional, like any other person, a politician, a mechanic or a journalist. It's not right to think I shouldn't have an opinion.

"I never positioned myself on any side.

"There are a lot of people who protested in Madrid and Seville that Catalans can vote. There are people with all sorts of opinions and we have to respect them. Even if they are extreme opinions we have to respect them within the law."

But Pique refused to answer when asked if he was in favour of Catalan independence.

"I'm not going to answer that because I think footballers are global people. Most of my followers are foreign. My kids are Colombian, Lebanese, Catalan and Spanish. Right now my response is that there's a big political problem in Spain but the only way to resolve it is dialogue, otherwise this thing gets worse."

And Pique also declined to say whether he'd play for Catalonia over Spain, saying: "I haven't thought about it... the process would take years anyway."

But most of all Pique wants the two sides to talk, after a press conference in which he did so with a rare intelligence.

"I think Spain-Catalonia is like father and son where the son is 18 years old and wants to leave home. Spain has the choice to just say no or to sit down and talk. I don't see what you have to lose by talking.

"Dialogue brings people together. The most important thing is dialogue and respect.

"I only ask you that you respect my opinion."

Online Editors

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