Gerard Pique is one of Spain’s great patriots, his treatment by mob of hate is a national disgrace
Gerard Pique should have a red carpet rolled out by Spain's supporters, not abuse for merely supporting the right of his people to vote, writes Desmond Kane.
"As a player, your dream is to play in the national shirt and defend it against the world."
The words of the imperious Gerard Pique, then only 23, prior to the 2010 World Cup finals in South Africa, a tournament that would see Spain finally end their long wait to win football's loftiest prize.
It was hewn from a technique celebrated in Madrid, but from a base built firmly in Barcelona, who contributed seven of Spain’s conquistadors in their felling of the Netherlands. It was a Johannesburg final perhaps best remembered for the botched attempt by the Dutch to follow a caveman policy: 'if you can't beat them, beat them up' thankfully fell well short.
A woman wrapped in an Estelada (Catalan separatist flag) stands next to an advertisement showing an image of FC Barcelona and Spain's national team player Gerard Pique outside the FC Barcelona official store during a protest.Eurosport
Pique's pride in representing Spain is the same now as when his Barca companion Andres Iniesta's extra-time goal earned that regal Spanish side a place in the world game's folklore seven years ago.
“My commitment to the national team is maximum. I feel very proud to be here," said Pique as Spain prepare to face Albania on Friday on the cusp of securing their place at next year’s World Cup finals in Russia.
But these are hardly moments to get the bunting out. These are troubling times for Spain away from football as politics, identity and police brutality infest the beautiful game without much thought.
Adults purporting to be fans of Spain hurled abuse and whistled at the elegant Barcelona professional Pique during a training session in Alicante on Monday for his supposed support, a claim without foundation, for Catalan independence.
Yet Pique’s sentiments are hardly the words of a revolutionary attempting to find self-expression through support for independence.
To put it mildly, the treatment of one of the most decorated defenders in the history of world football over these past few harrowing days and hours has been disgraceful, despicable and depressing. It has also been dishonest.
There has been plenty of misreporting of what Pique has said and done. Firstly, there are plenty of headlines suggesting he has encouraged the ire of football fans by becoming political.
It is bogus to suggest Pique has brought this upon himself. Pique has never suggested he was in favour of separation from Spain, but merely supported the right of the Catalan people to vote.
Pique has been a folk hero for his stance when in fact all he has been doing is stating the right to self-determination.
"Politics is a drag, but why shouldn’t I express myself? I understand those players who don’t want to say anything. We’re footballers, but we’re people too. Why can a journalist or a mechanic express themselves but not a footballer?"
FC Barcelona shared Pique’s views by protesting against the conduct of the local police in attempting to block a referendum that government and law courts had deemed to be illegal. They played their Liga match with Las Palmas on Sunday at an empty Camp Nou.
Pique was almost moved to tears as he berated the government and reiterated his belief that the people who support him and his team-mates had the right to vote.
When you study some of the scenes from Sunday, you can understand why Pique has been so upset.
The image of some women being thumped by riot police in their attempts to vote are distressing moments in time that will be difficult to rinse from the memory.
But Pique, happily married after meeting the singer Shakira at the 2010 World Cup, has hinted strongly that on a personal level he is not in favour of independence by stating his family are “Colombian, Lebanese, Catalan and Spanish”.
If Pique feels the needs to speak out after such distressing scenes, he should be allowed to. Not shouted or whistled down by a mob of hate.
Gerard Pique with the World Cup.Eurosport
At a time when King Felipe has been addressing the public in Spain, Pique is a form of Spanish football royalty who deserves merely respect rather than rancour.
This is a World Cup and a European Championship winner, a four-times Champions League winner, a three-times Club World Cup winner, a six-times Spanish champion and an English Premier League winner.
He is a 91-times capped defender, who has given his lot to Barcelona and Spain. And even now he suggests he won’t slip quietly out the back door when some would see him burned at the stake for stating an honest opinion.
The British number one tennis player Andy Murray once declared himself a supporter of Scottish Independence on the eve of the 2014 referendum, but he never felt less British when he lifted his second Wimbledon title in 2016.
At the age of 30, Pique has seen it and done it all in football. And now he has seen some more.
"I have thought about leaving and I think the best thing is to stay. Going would mean that those people have won, those who think the best solution is to whistle and insult. I’m not going to give them that satisfaction."
Four points against Albania on Friday and Israel on Sunday will be enough to secure a place in Russia with Pique ready to retire after next summer's finals.
Pique is such a fine footballer that his role in the greatest triumph in the history of Spanish football will be recalled for a final that saw the Netherlands, the proprietors of Total Football, attempt to kick Spain off the pitch.
They failed miserably. Let us hope those who would rather see Pique be recalled as some sort of traitor to his country's cause suffer a similar fate.