Julen Lopetegui Defends Gerard Pique Following Criticism from Spain Supporters

Matt JonesFeatured ColumnistOctober 3, 2017

MURCIA, SPAIN - JUNE 07:  Spain manager, Julen Lopetegui gives instructions to Gerard Pique during the international friendly match between Spain and Colombia at Nueva Condomina Stadium on June 7, 2017 in Murcia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images

Spain manager Julen Lopetegui has insisted Gerard Pique "is not a problem" after he was criticised by supporters who attended the team's open training session on Monday.

Following chaotic scenes in Barcelona on Sunday when hundreds of people were hurt trying to vote in a referendum on Catalonia's secession from Spain, Pique said he would "take a step back and leave the national team before 2018" if his support for the ballot was an issue, per BBC Sport.

Lopetegui was adamant the defender has his full backing, per Cadena Ser (h/t Football Espana):

"Pique is not a problem for us. He is an excellent footballer and boosts us so of course he will be here with us—he always gives his maximum and he is relaxed, he's fine.

"Maybe he is judged by his political views but he is undoubtedly very committed to us and has never let us down.

"Gerard is a player and I am a coach so we have to talk about football and our aims to get to the World Cup—football unites and nobody can use a football platform for political means."

Here is the moment Pique walked out for training on Monday at the session in Madrid:

Journalist David Cartlidge provided more details of the unsavoury backdrop to the session, which did not last as long as anticipated:

According to Ed Malyon of The Independent, those who jeered Pique also called him an "arseh--e" and encouraged him to "leave the national team."

The referendum was held on Sunday, though the Spanish government deemed the vote to be illegal and sought to disrupt the ballots. Subsequently, violent scenes broke out across the region and Barcelona's La Liga match with Las Palmas at the Camp Nou was played behind closed doors.

Pique posted an image of himself voting in the referendum on his Twitter account:

"From today and until Sunday, let us express ourselves peacefully," he said on social media ahead of the vote, per Reuters (h/t MailOnline). "We do not give them any excuse. That's what they want. And we sing well tall and very strong."

Even before the independence referendum, Pique, as a Barcelona talisman, has been the subject of criticism from his own supporters when donning the La Roja jersey. 

Pique has helped Spain to glory in the past.
Pique has helped Spain to glory in the past.MIGUEL RIOPA/Getty Images

The 30-year-old has represented Spain 91 times and has been a key figure in the most successful period in the nation's football history. In 2010, he helped the team to the FIFA World Cup for the first time ever, while he was also a key man in the UEFA European Championship triumph two years later.

Spain face Albania in Alicante on Friday in one of their final two World Cup qualifying matches. They lead Group G by three points ahead of Italy.