The president of the Spanish Sports Council (CSD) has accused Bayern Munich coach Pep Guardiola of the “manipulation” of voters after he took part in a video backing Catalan independence.
Guardiola, in favor of Catalonia breaking away from Spain, agreed to be on the list of regional election candidates of the pro-independence Junts pel Si (Together for Yes) party.
Although the way the system works makes it virtually impossible for him to get elected to the regional parliament, the former Barcelona player and coach has spoken in a video made by Guanyarem, a movement of Catalan sports stars.
Guanyarem has the support of figures including Carles Puyol, Johan Cruyff, Xavi Hernandez, Gerard Pique, Raul Tamudo, Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu, Manchester City director of football Txiki Begiristain, Everton manager Roberto Martinez, motorcyclist Aleix Espargaro and tennis player Alex Corretja.
Cardenal, a member of the governing Partido Popular, which is against the idea of Catalan independence, told DPA: “The case of Guardiola explains many things that are happening in Catalonia.
“It is the biggest manipulation I have seen in my life. Guardiola has taken part.
“I don’t know if it is intentional or not, but Guardiola has taken part from the moment he is a candidate on an electoral list, and he has made a video where it seems he wants to say that all those who have signed [to the Guanyarem project] think the same as him.”
As a player, Guardiola won a gold medal for Spain at the 1992 Olympic Games. He represented the national team 47 times, playing at the 1994 World Cup and Euro 2000.
His Barcelona team, featuring Puyol and Xavi, also formed the core of the Spain side that won Euro 2008 and 2012 and 2010 World Cup.
“Guardiola, I believe, is one of the best coaches in the world, and his contribution to Spanish football is indispensable for understanding what the national team has achieved,” Cardenal said.
“I would like to ask if he realizes the manipulation that is taking place, and if he defends the liberty of his sporting colleagues who have been used, against their will, and many of them without thinking.”
Sports journalist Xavi Torres, who helped enlist sports stars for the pro-independence project, stressed that voters were free to make up their own minds.
“We have not manipulated anybody,” Torres was quoted as saying by AS.
“Everyone knows Guardiola, and to say that I can manipulate him or any other sports person is to underestimate these people.”
The issue of whether Catalan clubs such as Barcelona, Espanyol and Girona could continue to play in La Liga should independence happen continues to be a topic of strong debate.
Earlier this week, Cardenal warned that Barcelona would end up being similar to Celtic or Ajax if Catalonia broke from Spain and became independent.
Espanyol president Joan Collet, who also appears on the Guanyarem website making a thumbs up gesture, has said he believes the current situation would continue because no other option was feasible.
“I see Espanyol in the Spanish league, and Barcelona too” Collet was quoted as saying in AS.
“Espanyol could not allow ourselves the luxury of not playing in the Spanish league.”