After widespread reports that his public stance on the Catalan referendum had caused a rift in the Spain squad, Gerard Pique called a press conference to clarify his position. The Barcelona defender had plenty to say.
A win over Albania on Friday night will seal Spain's spot at an eleventh straight World Cup but the constitutional crisis enveloping the country has overshadowed the build up to the match.
Barcelona defender Gerard Pique has been at the center of the issue from a footballing perspective. He was booed and verbally abused by Spanish fans at training on Monday, after publicly expressing his desire for people to vote and becoming emotional when criticizing the response of the Spanish police. With rumors of unrest in the Spanish squad reaching a fever pitch, Pique called a surprise press conference on Wednesday to clear things up.
"That's the million-dollar question," he said in reference to independence. "I can't answer that. Footballers are global figures, and I can't position myself on one side. Right now, my answer to that is not important. We're in a difficult political situation and the only way forward is through dialogue or this problem is going to get worse. Through dialogue anything can be achieved."
"I want people to see that I defend what I think, but I respect and understand that there are many people who think differently. We have to sit down and [have a] dialogue - not just politicans, but all people."
The center back has won 91 caps, a World Cup and a European Championship with Spain and has formed a formidable central defensive partnership with Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos, a fierce Spanish patriot.
Pique insisted that, contrary to widespread rumors, the relationship between him and Ramos was solid. "The Ramos thing is a lie," he said. "We get on phenomenally."
He also made it clear that while he felt it was possible for a player who supported Catalan independence to play for Spain, he didn't feel it neccessary to make his position on the issue public.
The 30-year-old re-iterated his total commitment to the national team and but admitted that after he was abused by Spanish fans at training on Monday thoughts of quitting international football had crossed his mind.
Pique's comments came the day after Sergio Busquets, another Catalan Barcelona star, admitted to some doubts about the squad's current unity.
"This is my most difficult moment with the Spain team because of everything that is happening. I think it will be difficult to find a solution to the Pique situation," the midfielder told Spanish radio station Cope.
"There has been no special summit between the players. I don't know if Pique and Sergio Ramos have spoken. The atmosphere within the squad is exceptional."
Pique has said he will stop playing for the national team if his political views were deemed problematic by the football authorities but, as far as coach Julen Lopetegui is concerned, his beliefs are not an issue.
"His commitment to the team has always been extraordinary. We do not analyse political opinion. He is selectable because he wanted to come here with us. He has always behaved well and all the time that is the case we will not look any further."
Despite the tensions in the squad, Spain are overwhelming favorites to brush Albania aside in the Group G encounter on Friday night in Alicante. Even if they fail to book their ticket to Russia in that match, they will have a second bite of the cherry against Israel in Jerusalem on Tuesday night.
mp (DPA, AP)