Impassioned Pique out to win back support after rejecting Spain retirement

Gerard Pique has affirmed his commitment to Spain amid the furore surrounding the disputed independence referendum in Catalonia.

Spain defender Gerard Pique has often been subjected to jeers from fans due to his support for Catalonia's right to vote on independence from Spain.   -  Getty Images

Gerard Pique is ready for the "challenge" of winning back support from Spain fans after admitting he considered retiring from international football.

Pique's support for the right to hold the Catalan independence referendum last Sunday, which was deemed illegal by the Spanish government and led to violent clashes between police and voters, has led to further scrutiny over his position within Julen Lopetegui's squad.

The centre-back was jeered by some supporters when he arrived for training with the national team this week ahead of its final World Cup qualifiers against Albania and Israel.

Pique suggested last week he would consider stepping aside from Spain duties if it would help to improve the overall atmosphere between the fans and the team.

However, speaking at a news conference on Wednesday, the Barcelona defender said he is determined to silence his critics once more and that the rest of the squad also wants him to stay.

"The first day of training was difficult. Nobody likes it when there are people against you. It's not pleasant to receive insults," he said.

"But it's a challenge for me. I want to help the national team in every way I can, above all on the pitch. I came here 15 years ago and it's been like a family to me. It's one of the big reasons I keep coming here.

"My commitment has always been to the utmost. I feel proud to be with the national team. Don't doubt my commitment.

"I have considered [stepping aside]. You have to assess all options, but after thinking about it, I believe the best thing is to continue.

"You don't give in to the people who think only by whistling. My team-mates are also in favour of me staying.

"I don't want to leave through the back door and feel like things have ended badly. This is my family. I want to carry on for them. There will be people whose mind you can't change, but I feel very strongly about trying to turn this around."

Pique has often been subjected to jeers from fans due to his support for Catalonia's right to vote on independence from Spain, although he has never spoken publicly in favour of either side.

However, he insists being happy to speak about political matters should not be a barrier for any footballer when it comes to representing their country.

"I believe an 'independentista' can play for the national team. To be in favour of independence is not to go against Spain," he said.

"Our opinions come from the heart. It's impossible for us all to think the same way.

"Just as I think people should be able to vote, I understand and I respect that there are people who don't believe that the Catalans should be able to vote.

"We are footballers, but above all we're people. Why can't you express yourself?

"I don't see myself on the front line of militancy. Some people have advised me to stop talking. I've tried to talk about what I think. I've never put myself on either side.

"The whistling will be difficult to stop but what I'm expressing is very rational. I feel uncomfortable for my team-mates. They don't deserve to have a team-mate whistled."

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