Pique says he will leave Spain national team after 2018 WCup
MADRID (AP) Gerard Pique says the 2018 World Cup in Russia will be his final tournament with Spain because he feels he is not wanted in the national team.
The Barcelona defender made the announcement after Spain's 2-0 win at Albania on Sunday in European qualifying for the World Cup. Spain currently tops Group G, with only first place giving automatic qualification.
''I always give everything I have on the field, but there are people who think it's better if I'm not here,'' Pique said. ''After Russia, a stage will have ended for me.''
The player is often jeered by many Spaniards because of his pro-Catalonia stance. He recently appeared to support a pro-independence move by the Catalan region, upsetting those who opposed it.
Pique stirred a social media controversy during Sunday's match by cutting the sleeves of his soccer jersey instead of changing into the short sleeves which have the colors of the Spanish flag. He said the long sleeves were bothering him.
Pique said his decision to retire had already been made before this latest controversy.
''It's not a `heat of the moment' decision, I've given a lot of thought to this.'' the 29-year-old Pique said. ''It's not because of what happened today, it's because I always give my best on the field and, although there are some people who have thanked me, some don't think it's OK for me to be here.''
The defender said he also wants to give way for younger players.
''You need to give them some space,'' Pique said. ''I'll be 31, I've won everything with the national team. I'll try to play my 100th game with the team, and I want to win the World Cup again, which is the most important thing.''
Pique, who has two children with his long-term partner, Colombian singer Shakira, helped Spain win the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 European Championship.
With Barcelona, he won six Spanish league titles, as well as three club World Cups and three Champions Leagues.
''Life goes on,'' he said. ''I still want to be with Barcelona for several years.''
The Spanish football federation released a statement supporting the player.