Gerard Pique announces retirement from Spanish national team over sleeves controversy

The World Cup winner was accused of cutting the colours of the Spanish flag off his shirt against Albania.

Gerard Pique, soccer, Spain,

Image: Hektor Pustina AP/Press Association Images

Gerard Piqué has announced that he will retire from duty for the Spanish national team in the wake of the latest controversy to surround the player. 

The Barcelona and former Real Zaragoza player was the target of abuse online after several people pointed out that he had cut the sleeves of his jersey for the side's game against Albania, which they won 2-0.

Fans online highlighted that the short sleeve jersey had a red and yellow cuff, and that Piqué had cut the end of his sleeves off, assuming that it was in order to remove the colours of the Spanish flag from his shirt.

However, in a video interview after the match, the defender explained that he simply cut the sleeves because he wanted to play more comfortably.

Displaying Sergio Ramos' shirt, which also had long sleeves, he said "it doesn't have any red or yellow, I cut the sleeves because they are too short. I had a long shirt. At no point did I want to cut anything off."

This is another in a list of incidents which have dogged the player's time with the national side and caused tension between him and the supporters.

The Barcelona player has been open and clear about his support for Catalan independence and has been booed at a number of stadiums in Spain for expressing those views, including Leon, Alicante and Oviedo. He was also accused of raising his middle finger to the camera during the national anthem at the Euros this past summer. Piqué responded to that on Twitter by saying he was simply crossing his fingers, and "let's stop looking for controversies where there are none."

Despite that atmosphere that has seemingly surrounded him, he has always played for Spain with dedication, pride and professionalism, winning every prize there is to claim on the international stage, bar the Confederations Cup.

Speaking in the mixed zone after the game however, Pique stated that this latest "controversy" had been the final straw, and that he would retire from international duty. 

"After World Cup 2018 I will leave the Spanish national team," said the defender. "I had this pre-planned, it's not taken in the heat of the moment. I've always given everything on the pitch and although some have been grateful, others don't want me here." 

The Spanish Football Federation has also issued a statement on the matter, along with a picture of a long-sleeved jersey before the sleeves were cut: 

"Gerard Piqué cut the sleeve with the sole aim of playing more comfortably, the same way other players have done on many occasions," read the statement.

"The unjustified criticisms towards Gerard Piqué have provoked the player to think of leaving the Spanish National Team after the Russia World Cup: 'I have tried everything, but I can't bare [sic] this anymore, today's issue of the sleeves is the the straw that breaks the camel [sic]. They've managed to make me lose the excitement of coming here, and although after Russia I'll only be 31, I'll leave.'"

The new manager of the national side, Julen Lopetegui, attempted to ease concerns over the player's decision, giving short shrift to the "controversy" by stating that "it doesn't seem serious to me."

"I understand Pique," said Lopetegui, "I'm just saying that he had a brilliant game and that he's been one of our most outstanding players, as he was against Italy. He had a fantastic game, just like Sergio [Ramos].

"I have nothing more to say. We need calm and quiet. Pique's commitment is beyond doubt."