Madrid (AFP) – Spanish defender Gerard Pique has announced that he will end his international career after the 2018 World Cup amid renewed controversy over his political views.
The Barcelona star, who supports independence for Catalonia, came under fire again after Sunday’s 2-0 World Cup qualifying win against Albania.
Pique, who played in the Spain team that won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, was criticised in the Spanish media for allegedly removing the national colours from his playing strip.
The accusations were the last straw for the defender, who has played 85 times for his country.
“The World Cup in Russia is going to be my last tournament with the national team,,” he said after the game in Shkoder, Albania.
“This is not a decision that I have taken today, I have been thinking about it. But the criticisms today have added to what has happened over the last few years.”
Spanish media outlets said Pique had cut short the sleeves of his team unform to remove the national flag colours of red and yellow.
The Spanish Football Federation sprang to his defence, pointing out that the Spanish colours did not feature on the team strip worn in Albania.
A federation statement said the national colours: “only appear on the short-sleeved version of the team strip and not on the long-sleeved model worn by Pique.”
The wealthy Catalan region has been calling for more autonomy in recent years from Madrid and regional lawmakers last month approved a plan to call a referendum next year on independence.
First capped in 2009, Pique is an automatic choice in central defence for Spain and a key part of their plans for the Moscow World Cup finals, when he will be 31. But some fans angered by his support for independence from Spain, say he should he be dropped.
“There are also people who believe that it’s better that I am not here,” said Pique.