Barcelona star Gerard Pique has stunned fans in Spain by announcing that he will stop playing for his country after the 2018 World Cup in Russia because he feels he is not wanted in the national team by some.
The Barcelona defender made the announcement after Spain’s 2-0 win at Albania on Sunday in European qualifying for the World Cup. Spain currently top Group G, with only first place giving automatic qualification.
“I always give everything I have on the field, but there are people who think it’s better if I’m not here,” Pique said.
“After Russia, a stage will have ended for me.”
The bad blood between Barcelona and Real Madrid carries over into international football as the majority of Spain fans are also Real Madrid. The fact that Pique plays for “the enemy” and is pro-Catalonia, upsets many Spanish fans who oppose Catalan independence.
Pique stirred a social media controversy during Sunday’s match by cutting the sleeves of his soccer jersey instead of changing into the short sleeves which have the colours of the Spanish flag. He said the long sleeves were bothering him. The Royal Spanish Football Federation (RFEF) was forced to release a statement on Monday with a photo highlighting that the long-sleeved shirt Pique had modified did not have the red and yellow stripes in its original design.
Pique said his decision to retire had already been made before this latest controversy.
“It’s not a ‘heat of the moment’ decision, I’ve given a lot of thought to this,” the 29-year-old said.
“It’s not because of what happened today, it’s because I always give my best on the field and, although there are some people who have thanked me, some don’t think it’s OK for me to be here.”
Former Barcelona star Xavi Hernandez backed old team-mate telling Sport:
“Carles Puyol and I suffered the same thing years ago. It’s a lack of respect.
“He takes this seriously. He has the right to say that he’s become tired of it. I think he’s fed up.
“He’s exasperated because he doesn’t feel valued or loved, and they say that he’s not committed to the national team.”