Barcelona defender Gerard Pique insists 'I am always proud to represent Spain' despite public backing of Catalan independence referendum book

Barcelona defender Gerard Pique is always proud to pull on the Spain jersey and represent his country - despite publicly supporting Catalan independence.

The 30-year-old, who somewhat controversially proclaimed his support for the upcoming referendum, insisted he always feels a great sense of pride when playing for his national side.

The Barcelona man took to Twitter on Thursday to call for peaceful expression of opinions ahead of the planned referendum. 

Despite this, Julen Lopetegui still included him in his 26-man Spain squad for their World Cup qualifiers against Albania and Israel next month. 

The centre back, who has 91 international appearances to his name, said he was delighted to be included in Lopetegui's squad.

'I am very happy to return and see if we can win the first game which would qualify us, which is what is important, and be once again in the World Cup finals,' Pique said, via Marca.

'I have always said that to play for the national team is a pride and a great motivation. The fact that the coach has called me up again shows that I am doing things well.'

The Spain head coach insisted Pique's backing of the referendum was something that was never going to affect his decision to select him for their upcoming fixtures. 

Lopetegui said: 'Gerard is part of the soul of the Spanish team, there is no room for doubt with him.

'[He] gives it his all each and every time he plays with us.

'I judge players on their attitude, their commitment and their performances. That's why Pique's in and why everyone else is in. We're delighted with him, we won't talk about other things.

'On Monday, Gerard will train with us and will form part of the group, as always.'

There has previously been tension between Pique and fellow defender Sergio Ramos after the Real Madrid captain suggested commenting on the referendum was beyond the pale.

But Lopetegui refused to indulge in the debate between Pique and Ramos, insisting his comments will not have any impact on his squad.

Spain are three points clear at the top of Group G going in to their final two qualifiers. 

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