Spain’s midfielder Thiago Alcantara celebrates after scoring a goal against Italy during their 2013 UEFA U-21 Championship final football match at Teddy Stadium in Jerusalem on June 18, 2013. AFP PHOTO / JACK GUEZ (Photo credit should read JACK GUEZ/AFP/Getty Images)
Spain’s players are “focused” solely on Friday’s World Cup qualifier against Albania, Bayern midfielder Thiago Alcantara has insisted, adding that players were tired of being asked about teammate Gerard Pique’s outspoken stance on the independence referendum in Catalonia.
“As for Gerard we see him as he’s always been, with the same commitment as ever and the same happiness, even in the changing room,” said Thiago at a press conference with teammate Koke.
“We’re sorry because we came here to play football, I didn’t come here to talk about anybody’s life, Koke’s or mine, we came here to play football.”
Barcelona’s Pique has been an outspoken defender of the wealthy northeastern Spanish region’s right to self-determination, and on Sunday cast his vote in a referendum deemed illegal by Madrid that was scarred by clashes between voters and security forces.
And the player’s latest declarations have once again raised the debate over his role in the Spanish national team.
Despite playing a crucial part of the Spain sides that won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2012, Pique is routinely jeered when representing his country.
Those jeers intensified in front of just a few hundred fans at an opening training session on Monday amid chants of “Pique leave the national team!”
He has already stated his intent to retire from international football after next year’s World Cup, but insisted he could step aside sooner if Spain coach Julen Lopetegui or the federation believe his political stance to be problematic.
Thiago added: “It’s a pleasure to be in the squad, everyone is there on their sporting merits. We’re sorry to not be able to speak, to not be comfortable to speak about Albania or Israel which is the fundamental thing for us now.”
‘Everyone has own opinion’
Teammate Koke said he was “already tiring of the subject” of the referendum, clashes during which left more than 90 people injured, according to Catalan authorities.
“It’s always talking about the same thing,” the Atletico Madrid midfielder said. “But we’re professionals and we think about what we have to do, which is playing football.
“The changing room atmosphere has been the same as ever, we’re all focused on the important game against Albania, we want to win and all but seal our qualification” for next year’s World Cup in Russia, Koke said.
Thiago had the final word, saying: “We’ll talk amongst ourselves in the changing room, about our focus on having to be the best team, to be able to produce our best game. We’ll not speak about external things, each person has opinions.
“We’re here to speak about the team and to do the best we can to ensure our qualification for the World Cup. We’re all here pulling in the same direction to get ourselves qualified.”
Spain lead Group G of European qualifying by three points from Italy meaning one win from their final two games, against Albania and Israel, is likely to be enough to automatically qualify for next year’s showpiece thanks to their far superior goal difference over the Italians.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Barcelona on Tuesday, shouting “occupation forces out” and “the streets will always be ours” in protest at police violence during the referendum.