Pep Guardiola has been sharply rebuked by Spanish government spokesman Inigo Mendez de Vigo after the Manchester City manager dedicated his side's Champions League win over Napoli to two jailed Catalan separatist politicians.
Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, leaders of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and Omnium Cultural respectively, appeared before the High Court in Madrid on Monday and are being held without bail while under investigation for sedition.
Sanchez and Cuixart were leading figures in Catalonia's October 1 independence referendum, which was deemed to be illegal by the Spanish government, and their arrests prompted protests on Tuesday.
Asked about the situation after City overcame Napoli 2-1 to make it three wins out of three in Group F, Guardiola – who has been actively involved in the campaign for Catalan independence in his home region – told reporters: "It's a good time to dedicate them this win.
"We have shown in Catalonia that citizenship is bigger than any ideas. Omnium and ANC have always acted with civility, expressing their ideas of what we want.
"Right now the situation is as it is and we hope they can be released soon because right now it feels as if we all were there."
But Mendez de Vigo, Spain's Minister of Education, Culture and Sport, told RNE: "Pep Guardiola's opinion on politics is like mine over nuclear physics.
"Obviously I think that the opinion of an athlete or, in general, of anyone, when he speaks of other things that is not what he knows or does well is like the one I have when I talk about nuclear physics – I do not know a word.
"Guardiola's opinions on politics are his opinions. I do not share them, but there he is."
Mendez de Vigo also claimed "many fans of Barcelona will not have liked the attitude of the club" after the LaLiga leaders played behind closed doors against Las Palmas on the day of the referendum, which was marred by violent clashes between police and protestors.
During the match, which Barca won 3-0, Camp Nou's stadium scoreboard showing an illustration of a ballot box captioned "Democracia".
Catalan authorities said slightly fewer than 90 per cent of voters backed independence, although turnout for the poll was 43 per cent.
Carles Puigdemont, leader of Catalonia's regional government, insists the results give the region a mandate for independence but has called for a period of negotiation over the next two months.
Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy has given Puigdemont a deadline of Thursday to abandon secession plans and return to "constitutional order".
18 de febrero 2018
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