Gerard Pique won’t give boo-boys satisfaction by walking away from Spain
‘Going would mean that those people have won, those who think the best solution is to whistle and insult’
Gerard Pique (right) and Sergio Ramos during Spain’s training session at Las Rozas Sports City in Madrid. Photograph: EPA
Gerard Pique has admitted he considered leaving the Spain team after he was whistled and abused by supporters at a training session on Monday night, but insisted he would not give those fans satisfaction by walking away. The Barcelona defender appealed for respect and dialogue in the wake of Sunday’s Catalan referendum as the political situation grows increasingly tense. He also refused to reveal whether he had voted yes, describing that as the “$1 million question”, but did dismiss the popular assumption that he is in favour of independence.
Barcelona played behind closed doors on Sunday in protest at how Spanish police tried to prevent Catalonia holding a referendum which the central government and constitutional courts declared illegal. As images of violence emerged, Barcelona asked for the game against Las Palmas to be cancelled, opting to play in an empty stadium when the request was denied. Afterwards Pique, visibly affected and close to tears, criticised the Spanish government and reaffirmed his long-standing public support for the Catalans’ right to vote. He said he felt Catalan and offered to step down from international duty if the coach Julen Lopetegui wanted him to.
The following evening, with political positions increasingly entrenched, supporters gathered for the evening session at the Spanish Football Federation’s Las Rozas headquarters. Pique has been whistled playing for Spain before but he admitted he had not expected the intensity of what awaited him on Monday. Some carried banners demanding he leave the national team. There were reports that his relationship with the captain Sergio Ramos had broken down and worse was expected when Spain play Albania in Alicante on Friday. The situation appeared to have become unsustainable.
Pique, who said he had decided to speak because he wanted to find a solution and because it was not fair on his team-mates who have grown “tired” of the issue to have to face endless questions about him, said that it “hurt” that people questioned his commitment to the national team. He said he had thought about departing in the wake of the referendum, but also that he had thought about continuing after 2018 – the date he had previously set for his international departure. “I don’t want to leave out the back door,” he said.
“From the age of 15 I have considered this a family: that’s one of the reasons I’m here,” Pique said. “My commitment to the national team is maximum. I feel very proud to be here. I have thought about [leaving] and I think the best thing is to stay. Going would mean that those people have won, those who think the best solution is to whistle and insult. I’m not going to give them that satisfaction.”
“There are lots of people who want me to stay. If you talk, you can reach an understanding. I am sure that if I sat down with them all, it would be different. There are people in Spain whose positions are very diverse and if you talk, you can find a solution. I’d like people to listen and think: ‘what he says is reasonable’. And the Sergio Ramos thing is a myth. I’ve said it 15,000 times: we get on fantastically well. In fact we’re going to go into business together.
“Politics is a drag, but why shouldn’t I express myself? I understand those players who don’t want to say anything. We’re footballers but we’re people too. Why can a journalist or a mechanic express themselves but not a footballer?”
Pique insisted his politics were not incompatible with the national team. He reiterated that he has “never” declared in favour of independence. Indeed, the way he returned to the theme and framed his argument implied he does not support separatism. He agreed when it was put to him that Spain and Catalonia would be weaker in the case of independence; argued that the “world is so connected that countries are the least important thing”; and described his family as “Colombian, Libyan, Catalan and Spanish”.
Asked if his Catalan sentiment meant that he should not play for the national team, he replied: “No. And I would take it even further than that – and this is not the case with me – I would say that even a supporter of independence could play for Spain. There is no other national team and they’re not against Spain. Spain is a country that’s the hostia [the business] and the people are de puta madre [bloody brilliant], so why not play for Spain? I repeat: it’s not the case with me. But why not? We reduce it to sentiment, but we’re here to help Spain win.”
“I am in favour of people voting. They can vote yes, no, or abstain,” he said. “I’m not on the front line. I don’t think I have ever positioned myself on one side of another. And my opinion is not so important. I have never fought tooth and nail to defend a particular side. Some say there should be independence, some say there should be a vote, some say there should be nothing. All three points of view are licit. There are lots of people in Spain that support Catalans voting. There were demonstrations in Madrid and Seville.”
When it came to direct questions, Pique avoided a direct answer. How had he voted, he was asked. “That’s the $1 million question,” he said. “I can’t give an answer on that. I can’t back one side or the other: I would lose half of my supporters.”
And who would he choose to play for if Catalonia did get independence? “I imagine it would be a process of three or four years, like Brexit,” he said. “I’ll be 33, so I haven’t really thought about it.”
Pique said he had not seen King Felipe’s speech accusing the Catalan authorities of attempting to break the unity of Spain the previous night because he was playing cards but said that people in Catalonia would have liked a more conciliatory message. “Spain has a history that goes back I-don’t-know-how-many years, and there is a part that wants to go. That’s way more important than what I think,” he said.
“Spain and Catalonia are like a father and his 18-year-old son who wants to leave home. Catalonia feels like it is treated in a way that’s not ideal. Spain – and I mean the government here, not the country – is like the dad and has two options: sit down and talk about it or the son leaves. It’s all radicalised now [but] I’m sure that if we talk we can reach an understanding. This is a political problem that’s very serious and there needs to be dialogue or it’s going to get worse. With dialogue you can achieve anything.”