Of all the riches that the prosperous Spanish region of Catalonia has produced in recent years, the best-known is human, fleet-footed, and Argentine.On game days at Barcelona’s Camp Nou, the red and yellow stripes of Catalonia’s flag rise in three reverential tiers around Lionel Messi, the foremost graduate of La Masia, the club’s youth academy.While the Masia “conveyor belt” has given Argentina a player of Maradona’s stature, it has also bequeathed to Spain such players as Xavi, Gerard Pique, Cesc Fabregas, and Sergio Busquets – all Catalan-born, and all members of the squad that won the World Cup in 2010.But earlier this week, Catalonia’s parliament did something that could have deprived Spain of the region’s footballing talent – and nearly a fifth of the national GDP. It declared independence.The announcement came weeks after a contentious referendum was disrupted by riot police – events that tennis star Rafael Nadal said left him anguished. Madrid has now enforced direct rule on Catalonia.As many as 2.26 million people were said to have voted in the referendum.One of them was Gerard Pique.Ja he votat. Junts som imparables defensant la democrcia. pic.twitter.com/mGXf7Qj1TM- Gerard Piqu (@3gerardpique) October 1, 2017″I have voted,” he wrote in Catalan. “Together, we are unstoppable defending democracy.”Only days earlier, he had asked his fellow Catalans to vote peacefully. “We do not give them any excuse,” he tweeted, presumably referring to Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy’s government. “That is what they want.”Sergio Ramos, Pique’s Spain colleague and Real Madrid rival, was not impressed.advertisementA Marca report, which observed that Pique was “regularly” at “the receiving end of abuse from Spain fans due to his public support for the Catalan cause,” quoted Ramos as saying, “Pique’s tweet is not the best if you don’t want them (the fans) to whistle…Maybe the tweet is not the best for the group either but everyone is free to say what they think.”Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez (who no longer plays for Spain or the Catalan club) certainly held nothing back after voters clashed with riot police.”What is happening in Barcelona is a disgrace,” he said, according to the British newspaper The Express. “It’s inadmissible that in a democratic country the people are not allowed to vote…I give my full support to the people who are peacefully trying to exert their right to vote.”Xavi’s former club made its stance clear several days before the vote.”Faithful to our history, we condemn any action that threatens democracy, freedom of expression and the right to decide,” said Josep Maria Bartomeu, FC Barcelona’s president in late September. He tweeted an official statement declaring support for the “will of the majority of Catalan people.”Fieles a nuestra historia, condenamos cualquier accin que atente contra la democracia, la libertad de expresin y el derecho a decidir pic.twitter.com/fbxlRBI8LR- Josep Maria Bartomeu (@jmbartomeu) September 20, 2017Cesc Fabregas, a former Barcelona man who now plays for Chelsea, was more reticent. He told Vanity Fair he wished things “could be done differently” but added that he tried to stay out of politics, Goal.com reported on October 20.Fabregas may prefer to keep politics at an arm’s length, but Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola seems to have no such qualms.A former Barcelona player who went on to become one of the club’s greatest managers, Guardiola dedicated City’s recent Champions League win against Napoli to two jailed Catalan separatists.