Primera Liga in focus: Gerard Pique’s Catalan stance makes an easy target for Spain fans

Outspoken player is not popular in Spain but his commitment to the national team is unquestionable.

If he was not banned from playing for dissent, Gerard Pique might expect to be jeered on Saturday when Barcelona play Atletico Madrid at the Vicente Calderon.

It goes with the territory of being a Barca player; they are usually hated or adored, but seldom ignored.

Being booed or whistled at away games is normal for players of the biggest clubs. They expect it, but in the case of Pique being jeered and whistled while playing for his country is very different.

Pique receives such treatment because of his political views. If you want a monosyllabic footballer with dull, cliched opinions voiced in an inarticulate manner, then Pique is not that man.

He is cerebral, speaks three languages and is capable of forming arguments on subjects which have nothing to do with football.

Though he is not a hardline separatist like former Barca player (and now politician) Oleguer Presas, a man who refused to buy a car when he was in Barca’s first team because he preferred to travel on public transport, Pique does not hide his support for Catalan independence.

It is largely because of this that he is booed at national games, as he was in Oviedo on Friday during Spain’s victory over Slovakia which put their Euro 2016 qualifying hopes back on track.

Pique has been a key performer for Spain; he has seldom let them down as they have won everything in football, yet the abuse continues.

Spain does not have a national stadium and international games are shared around the provinces where the Spanish national team are popular.

Catalans are usually not. The same provinces where Real Madrid might be supported, admired or at least function as everybody’s second team.

In their eyes, Pique is one, highly visible face of a Catalan independence campaign which Spain rejects.

He is also the man who chided Madrid about losing the title last season by sarcastically thanking singer Kevin Roldan, who had publicised Cristiano Ronaldo’s 30th birthday party after a 4-0 derby defeat which split opinions in Madrid.

Pique also made derogatory comments about Real Madrid to his teammates following Barca’s European Super Cup win last month. So fans boo him.

“I find it disgraceful that there are people who whistle a national team player,” coach Vicente del Bosque said after the Slovakia game. “Gerard played fantastically well today.”

Pique was booed in training, when he left the team bus and during practice as well as during the match and even after it on the streets of Gijon.

He has won support, too, even from his most Spanish teammates such as the Seville-raised Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos.

“We all know what Pique is like, we can’t change that now and there’s no point getting into whether he’s always acted the right way in the last few years,” Ramos told journalists before Spain’s game in Macedonia on Tuesday.

“We’re all Spanish here and we’re representing a country. Booing doesn’t do anyone good. We’re here to represent our country, Spain, and we have to pull together. Pique gives his all on the pitch.

“We come to the national team to do our best and the less we talk about this subject the better because otherwise we will end up encouraging it to happen again.”

Spain’s 1-0 win in Skopje moved them to the brink of qualification for Euro 2016 with two games left.

They have kept clean sheets in their last six competitive away games and Pique is one reason for that, but the abuse is unlikely to stop, even though Spain’s November 13 friendly against England has been moved from Madrid’s Bernabeu, where the abuse directed at the Catalan is likely to be most fierce, to Alicante.

Whatever happens, it will not put Pique off his stride.

Espanyol hold Raul Tamudo close

Raul Tamudo will be able to take his son to watch his beloved Espanyol against Real Madrid this Saturday.

A Catalan from the working-class streets of Santa Coloma in Barcelona’s urban sprawl, Tamudo, 37, became Espanyol’s all time leading goalscorer in a 13-year association with the club.

No Catalan footballer has scored as many Primera Liga goals as Tamudo, who announced his retirement this week after playing the last two years of his 18-year professional career at second division Sabadell. Tamudo spent 13 of those years with Espanyol and was capped 13 times for Spain under Luis Aragones.

Tamudo, who scored 129 goals for Espanyol, announced his decision in an open letter to fans.

“When I would spend hours and hours as a kid playing on the streets in Santa Coloma, I could never have imagined that one day I would receive so much love and affection — especially from Espanyol fans,” wrote the man who said his life’s ambition was to earn a living “chasing a football around a pitch”.

Espanyol’s captain when they reached the 2007 Uefa Cup final, he never lost the instinct of the street footballer.

He was loved by Espanyol fans and despised by those of Barcelona. Even when he visited Camp Nou with Real Sociedad later in his career, Barca fans jeered him.

They had their reasons.

In 2007, Tamudo scored two goals which prevented Barca winning the Primera Liga. At Camp Nou. In the last minute.

Journalists asked him about how it felt to stop Barca winning the league, Tamudo instead focused on the story that it was a great honour that those two goals had seen him become Espanyol’s all-time leading scorer.

Tamudo’s propensity to annoy the neighbours endeared him greatly to Espanyol fans. They watch their bigger, better-supported, more successful city rivals dominate the Catalan and international landscape, while they have to sell their best players just to survive.

Espanyol fans mock Barca for having a stadium full of tourists and simply call them “Qatar”, a reference to their shirt sponsorship with that country’s national airline.

Tamudo played over 400 league games mostly for Espanyol but also for Rayo Vallecano and Sociedad. For Rayo, Tamudo’s 92nd-minute winner in the final game of the 2011/12 season kept them in the top flight.

Twice a Copa del Rey winner, with Espanyol, the retired striker told fans: “I am a father and now I want to enjoy life to the full with my son, to take him to Cornella to see my RCD Espanyol for many years to come.”

He will have that privilege on Saturday and he might enjoy what he sees off the field, too, for the fans plan their own homage to their former hero.

GAME OF THE WEEK — Atletico Madrid v Barcelona on Saturday

Something has to give as both teams have a 100 per cent record from their opening two matches. Atletico Madrid were especially impressive in their last match at Sevilla, winning 3-0, while Barcelona struggled to overcome Malaga at home.

While the Catalans travel to Madrid, the capital’s other team, Real, travel to Catalonia for a game at Espanyol.

International football meant there was no top-flight action in Spain last weekend, but the second division teams all played.

Alaves and Real Oviedo are back in the second tier after years in the regional 80-team third divisions. Both averaged over 10,000 for home games last season and it is sure to be more this term.

Another notable addition is Bilbao Athletic, the second string of Athletic Bilbao.

Following the relegation of Real Madrid and Barcelona’s second teams, the Basques are the only team to have a reserve side in Spain’s second division.

They are also playing their games in front of the famous giant white arch from the old San Mames stadium, which has been moved to the Lezama training ground where the reserves play.

Follow us on Twitter NatSportUAE