Spain boss Julen Lopetegui backs Gerard Pique after fans' boos
Spain coach Julen Lopetegui has defended Gerard Pique after the Barcelona centre-back was jeered by supporters during Monday's open training session with the national team because of his pro-Catalonia independence views.
Pique said after Sunday's 3-0 win over Las Palmas that he could quit the national team before next summer's World Cup if he were deemed to be "a problem."
And fans made their feelings clear during the training event at the team's headquarters in Las Rozas, outside Madrid.
"Pique is not a problem for the national team," Lopetegui told Cadena Ser radio. "He is an excellent footballer and a solution."
Lopetegui has previously criticised the hostile treatment Pique often receives from some fans when he plays for the national team. He has denied an AS report that Pique, who has scored five goals in 91 appearances for Spain since making his senior debut in February 2009, could leave the national team before Friday's game against Albania.
"Of course he will be with us," he said. "Gerard is fine, he is calm. He has always given his maximum when he is here.
"He is judged by political views but he is very committed, he has always pleasantly surprised us."
The 30-year-old Pique, who announced last October that he would retire from the national team after next summer's World Cup in order to allow "future generations to take his place," was calm during training, according to Atletico Madrid midfielder Saul Niguez.
He told Onda Cero radio: "It's been like any other day in training. I've seen Gerard Pique very well."
While he has not been critical of Pique, Lopetegui has told his players to focus on football and the task at hand.
"Gerard is a footballer and I am a coach and we have to talk about football," he said. "I've asked everyone to talk about football. We are playing to get to a World Cup. Football unites and no one can use a football platform for political means."
Spain, who are three points clear of Italy at the top of Group G, host Albania in Alicante on Friday before playing at Israel three days later in their final World Cup qualifier, and need four points to be mathematically certain of avoiding the playoffs.
"Between all of us, the players, the federation, the staff, we have to try to achieve the ideal atmosphere for the game against Albania," Lopetegui said. "We cannot throw away the fantastic work we have done throughout the year just because we are monitoring other things."
Adriana Garcia is a Valencia-based football writer who covers La Liga for ESPN FC.