Ahead of this weekend’s World Cup qualifiers, Spain coach Julen Lopetegui has come to the defence of Gerard Pique after the Barcelona centre-back was booed by supporters during an open training session this week.
Following Sunday’s 3 – 0 victory over Las Palmas, Pique said that he may quit the national team before the World Cup if his pro-Catalonia independence views were deemed to be “a problem”.
Fans made their feelings clear to the player during the training event in Las Rozas, just outside Madrid.
After the training session Lopetegui said, “Pique is not a problem for the national team. He is an excellent footballer and a solution.”
In the past Lopetegui has criticised the treatment Pique receives from fans when he plays for the national team. He has also been forced to deny an AS report that Pique may leave the national team before this Friday’s game against Albania.
“Of course he will be with us,” he said. “Gerard is fine, he is calm. He has always given his maximum when he is here. He is judged by political views but he is very committed, he has always pleasantly surprised us.”
He went on to stress the importance of focusing on football rather than the political situation, “I’ve asked everyone to talk about football. We are playing to get to a World Cup. Football unites and no one can use a football platform for political means.”
Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez has said that Pique appeared to be fine in training, “It’s been like any other day in training. I’ve seen Gerard Pique very well.”
Spain need four points from the remaining to qualifiers to be mathematically certain of avoiding the playoffs. They face Albania on Friday and Israel next week.