SPAIN

The Federation wants Gerard Piqué to reverse his decision

The Spanish Football Federation is planning a strategy to persuade the centre-back, who has been involved with the national team set-up since the age of 15, to go back on his decision to retire after the 2018 World Cup.

The Federation wants Gerard Piqué to reverse his decision
Juan Flor

The Spanish Football Federation (FEF) is already working on a strategy to make Gerard Pique, who announced on Sunday that he would retire from international duty after the 2018 World Cup, feel wanted and valued in the national team.

Pique, a mainstay for La Roja

Piqué will be 31 in 2018 and into the latter stages of his career. With 85 caps, the Barcelona centre-back is a defensive rock and mainstay for La Roja. Only four players in Julen Lopetegui’s squad have made more appearances for the national team: Sergio Ramos (140), Andrés Iniesta (115), David Silva (107) and Sergio Busquets (92).

Piqué made clear after Spain’s 2-0 win over Albania on Sunday that his decision to retire was one he’d thought through and decided some time ago. His comments came after he found out that social media had been flush with speculation that he had cut his sleeves so not to display the colours of the Spanish flag during the match.

Piqué's sleeves whipped up a media storm on Sunday night

It's the straw that breaks the camel's back, says Piqué

It’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back,” he said. “One of so many. There are people who want me and others who don’t.” The Federation quickly issued a statement on Sunday night and it’s hard to remember a case of an organization coming out so quickly and clearly in defence of a footballer.

The Federation has experience of convincing important players in the squad to prolong their international careers. It happened with Carles Puyol. Aged 34 and ravaged by injury, Del Bosque persuaded him to play on until he reached 100 caps, a landmark he reached in a friendly match against Uruguay in Qatar in 2013. He retired from football just one year later. Xavi, another Barcelona legend, also wanted to retire from the national team after the 2012 European Championships but Del Bosque persuaded him to stay on until after the 2014 World Cup.

Puyol himself feels a sense of deja-vu with regards to the media storm around his former teammate. On Sunday he tweeted “This all rings a bell… good night,” in reference to how he experienced a similar reaction in 2007 when he casually folded down the tops of his socks during a match, covering up the red and yellow colours of the Spanish flag.

Lopetegui calm on Piqué's retirement

Spain coach Julen Lopetegui said following the game that Pique had always been a model player and that he would see how things progress. “Piqué’s commitment has never been in doubt. We’re calm about his retirement. We’ll wait and see.” His decision became a trending topic on Twitter on Sunday night and the hashtag #PiqueSeleccion began appearing on Monday as fans came out in support of the centre-back.

Battered and bruised during the 2010 World Cup: Piqué's commitment on the field for the Spanish national side has never been in doubt

Piqué's attitude has often bordered on controversy, but not for Spain

Piqué has always bordered on controversy with his outspoken and often fan-like comments; the ‘manita’ after Barcelona’s 5-0 win over Real Madrid in 2010 and ‘Kevin, it all began with you…’ during Barcelona’s title celebrations last year to name just a few. But his commitment to the national team, ever since the days when he won the U16 European Championships, has never been in doubt. He has played through boos from the team’s own fans, most famously in León and Oviedo, and never reacted badly, making light of the situation and signing Spanish flags for fans.

In September 2015 he organized a press conference to speak out on the matter. “I went to the Diada (National Day of Catalonia) in support of the right to decide [on Catalan independence].Then I went to play for Spain, and they booed me. As far as my attitude to Real Madrid-Barcelona is concerned, I’ll never change. That’s how I am.”

Piqué’s attitude with Spain, on the field, has been resolute but we live in a world in which the tension surrounding the relationship between Spain and Catalonia appears to have transferred to Real Madrid-Barcelona… and it’s taken its toll on him.