Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola dedicated his team’s UEFA Champions League win over Italy’s Napoli to two jailed Catalan independence activists.
The English Premier League club recorded a 2-1 home win against their Champions League Group F rivals on Tuesday, thanks to first-half goals from Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus.
Speaking in his native Catalan tongue to media from the region at the post-match press conference, City boss Guardiola dedicated the victory to Jordi Sanchez and Jordi Cuixart, two Catalan independence leaders who were jailed earlier this week for their role in preparations for the recent independence referendum in the region.
“This win is dedicated to them,” Guardiola said. “We have shown in Catalonia that citizenship is bigger than any ideas. We hope they will be released soon.”
Guardiola, 46, has been vocal in his support for the region’s independence, and in June addressed a thousands-strong demonstration at which he spoke in support of breaking away from Spain.
Leader of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC), Sanchez, and Cuixart, who heads the Omnium cultural association, were detained on the orders of Spain’s High Court on Monday.
They are alleged to have been the masterminds behind the controversial October 1 Catalan independence referendum, which was deemed illegal by Madrid and saw a huge police crackdown on voters.
The pair will remain in custody while the investigation into allegations of sedition continues.
During the game at City’s Etihad stadium, Napoli saw Dries Mertens’ penalty saved by City goalkeeper Ederson on 38 minutes, before reducing the deficit through a second-half spot kick from Amadou Diawara.
City weathered late Napoli pressure to claim the win, their 10th successive victory in all competitions, and now sit top of the group with three wins out of three.
Guardiola was manager of Barcelona between 2008 and 2012, during which time he guided the club to a hat-trick of La Liga titles and a Champions League double.
The Madrid government has given Catalan President Carles Puigdemont until Thursday to clarify whether statements he made in the regional parliament last week amounted to a formal declaration of independence for the region. If that’s the case, Madrid is likely to strip Catalonia of its autonomy.