Catalonia independence: FC Barcelona coach coy on crisis

Barcelona's head coach Ernesto Valverde during a press conference in Barcelona. Photo: 27 October 2017 Image copyright EPA
Image caption Ernesto Valverde said he was focussing on winning Saturday's match against Athletic Bilbao

FC Barcelona's coach has refused to be drawn into a growing political crisis, after Catalonia's regional parliament declared independence from Spain.

Ernesto Valverde said: "It's not for me to draw conclusions, but like everyone I have my own opinion on the matter."

Barcelona are Catalonia's top club. Their El Clásico matches against Real Madrid are watched by millions of fans.

Spain's football chief earlier warned Catalonia's clubs would leave La Liga should the region become independent.

Javier Tebas said: "Barcelona cannot choose where it plays if there is an independence process in Catalonia."

Bombarded with questions by reporters ahead of Saturday's away match against Athletic Bilbao, Valverde said: "I'm just focussed on winning this match.

"Nothing has happened yet and so far we are talking about assumptions [about the outcome of the crisis]. It's OK drawing conclusions but let's just talk about reality."

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Image caption FC Barcelona fans hold a banner that reads in Catalan "Now or never"

FC Barcelona have not been a neutral bystander on the question of Catalan independence in recent years.

In 2014, the club joined the National Pact on the Right to Decide, a platform comprising political parties and civil society organisations in favour of a referendum on independence for Catalonia.

Ahead of the latest independence referendum on 1 October, as Spain's Civil Guard were arresting Catalan government officials, the club released a statement, saying it was defending "democracy, freedom of speech, and self-determination".

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Media captionWatch: Gerard Piqué faces jeers and whistles

Just a few days after the referendum, Barcelona defender Gerard Piqué faced jeers and whistles from Spain fans at a training session with the national team.

He supported the independence referendum, which Spain says was illegal.

Another enthusiastic backer of the region's right to self-determination is Pep Guardiola, the former Barça boss who is now in charge of Manchester City.

Few people seem willing to contemplate a Catalan national league dominated by one of the world's biggest clubs, writes James Badcock in Madrid.

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Image caption Spain's La Liga without Lionel Messi?

The idea of Lionel Messi taking on semi-professional Catalan defenders each Sunday does not bear thinking about, he adds.

"I cannot imagine the Spanish Liga without Barcelona," said Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane. "I just can't see it as a fan of football and of sport in general."

During this weekend's La Liga round, another potentially politically charged match is Real Madrid's away game against Catalan outfit Girona.

Espanyol from Barcelona complete the Catalan representation in Spain's top football division.

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