Barcelona and Spain defender Gerard Pique has revealed he considered retiring from the national team over the recent criticism he has received from supporters.
In the aftermath of Pique's support for the Catalan independence referendum, he was the subject of abuse from spectators at an open training session for Spain in Madrid on Monday. He had previously said he'd be ready to walk away from the national team if his views on the ballot being held were an issue, per BBC Sport.
But speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, the 30-year-old said he will continue to represent La Roja, per journalist Richard Martin:
As reported by Ed Malyon of The Independent, at the session on Monday some supporters called Pique an "arseh--e" and encouraged him to "leave the national team."
The defender, who posted a photograph of himself voting in the referendum on Sunday on Twitter, made it clear he maintains the Catalan people should have a right to vote on independence and that discussion on the issue is important, per Football Espana:
Barcelona was engulfed by unsavoury scenes on Sunday as Spanish authorities sought to stop Catalans from casting their vote in a ballot the government deemed illegal.
The disruptions in the city meant Pique's Barcelona side had to play their La Liga match with Las Palmas behind closed doors at the Camp Nou.
Pique also stressed that while he has become a symbol of Catalan identity, he has also never given his own opinion publicly on either side of the debate:
In addition, he dismissed suggestions that he and Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos, the longstanding centre-back partners for Spain, are not on good terms. "We are very close and get on extremely well," he said, per Football Espana.
While there were plenty of serious issues discussed at the press conference, there was also time for some laughter from Pique:
European football journalist Feargal Brennan praised the Barcelona defender for openly discussing the issues:
Pique will be expected to feature for Spain on Friday against Albania in Alicante alongside Ramos in defence. All eyes will be on the supporters in the stands to see if there's any reaction to the 2010 World Cup winner in light of these latest comments.
Spain have a three-point lead from Italy at the top of the World Cup 2018 qualifying Group G with two games remaining of the campaign.