Sport Soccer

Thursday 14 December 2017

WATCH: A tearful Gerard Pique threatens to quit Spanish team in emotional interview

Gerard Pique warms up before Barca match on Sunday
Gerard Pique warms up before Barca match on Sunday

Richard Martin

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique broke down in tears in a post-match interview and indicated he did not want to play after Sunday's events in Catalonia.

"The board tried to postpone the game through every means possible and came down to the dressing room to take a decision with us," Pique said.

"Today has been a very tough day, probably the hardest since I've been a professional. My opinion counts for little and in the end we all agreed to play.

"La Liga and Las Palmas wanted to play, and we had to think about the points, but I understand everyone who has criticised us for playing."

Pique was also critical of the Spanish government and Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy for their handling of the referendum.

"The government's policies are some of the worst we have seen for 40 or 50 years. All they have done is separate Catalonia and Spain ever more. I'm sure there will be consequences," said Pique.

"It will only separate Catalonia from Spain even more. We have a president who doesn’t even know how to speak in English. When you can, you vote. Whether it’s yes or no, you vote. Here, during the Franco years, you couldn’t even vote.

"If anyone believes I am a problem for the coach or the Spanish Football Federation, I will step aside from the national team before the World Cup. Going with the national team is not a competition in patriotism, it’s about trying to play as best as you possibly can."

Barcelona staged their LaLiga match against Las Palmas behind closed doors as a protest while clashes sparked by the Catalan independence referendum occurred nearby.

The club had asked the Spanish football authorities to postpone the fixture, citing the unusual circumstances.

But when Barcelona's request was rejected by the Madrid-based Liga de Futbol Profesional, the club took the remarkable step of playing the top-flight fixture in an empty Nou Camp - winning 3-0.

Attempts to shut down the polls by Spain's Guardia Civil led to violent scenes described by Catalonia president Carles Puigdemont as "unwarranted, irrational and irresponsible".

Amid rising tensions in Barcelona, the two clubs looked like stoking the match into a political occasion, as Las Palmas had the Spanish flag embroidered prominently onto their match shirts to state their support for a united country.

Given the chaotic events occurring elsewhere in the city, Barcelona felt it was wrong to be playing a football match.

"We deeply regret all that is happening today in Catalonia. It saddens us and we are all affected by it," club president Josep Maria Bartomeu said.

"Barca tried to get the game postponed. It is not the ideal situation, it's an exceptional situation. We have not been able to find a way to postpone it.

"From there, all together, directors, executives and players met and we decided, exceptionally, to play the game behind closed doors."

Bartomeu added that the local Catalan police - the Mossos - had assured Barca the game could go ahead normally, in terms of security being assured.

But the club decided to turn down the option of opening the gates as normal to a bumper crowd, instead taking a stand against the football authorities for refusing to accept the postponement request and threatening the club with a points deduction.

"Playing this way, with the stadium empty, the club shows its disagreement (with the decision not to postpone the game)," said Bartomeu, quoted on Barcelona's website.

"The league told us we would lose six points, three from today and three as a penalty."

Barcelona emerged to an empty stadium in yellow and red shirts, the colours of Catalonia, before changing to their standard blue and red home kit for kick-off.

After hours of uncertainty, Barcelona had earlier released a statement which read: "FC Barcelona condemns the events which have taken place in many parts of Catalonia today in order to prevent its citizens exercising their democratic right to free expression."

By early evening, Catalan officials said 465 people in the region had been injured in clashes linked to the referendum, according to newspaper El Pais.

The Spanish government declared the referendum illegal. Voters were being asked whether they wish Catalonia to become an independent republic and there were reports of ballot papers and boxes being confiscated by the Guardia Civil, with batons and rubber bullets used on protesters.

According to Spanish reports, the usual pre-match meal between directors of the home and away clubs at the Nou Camp was cancelled, amid friction between the two camps.

Las Palmas had made their position clear in an emotive statement released in the morning.

It read: "Public pronouncements in recent days, especially those of our host FC Barcelona, have made this official Liga match more than a sporting event.

"Las Palmas could have been limited to being a silent witness of this historical crossroads or to take sides. We'll take the second."

The Canary Island club said they have "never felt the least temptation to be part of a country other than this".

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Reuters

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