“Spanish” fervor earns veto

Would-be assistant Celta coach rejected after fans’ protest

Salva Ballesta salutes fans after scoring a goal against Málaga in 2009.
Salva Ballesta salutes fans after scoring a goal against Málaga in 2009.Julián Rojas

I’ve never spoken about political matters, I’ve only said that I feel very Spanish.” Salva Ballesta, the former Sevilla, Racing, Atlético, Valencia and Málaga forward, who was La Liga’s top scorer in 1999-2000, was in his car making the long drive from the south coast to Vigo when his phone rang. Despite being assured by new Celta coach Abel Resino, who replaced Paco Herrera at the weekend, that Ballesta would be his assistant, sections of the Celta support protested so loudly that club president Carlos Mouriño was forced to make the call to say he could not take up the position.

Speaking the following day on the radio, Ballesta said the decision “is based on political motives and pressure from a section of the fans who do not share my idea of being Spanish.”

The son of an air force pilot, Ballesta has expressed his admiration for Joaquín García-Morato, a Nationalist aviator during the Civil War and admitted he “would like to meet (1981 coup leader Antonio) Tejero” in a 2006 interview. In the wake of the 2004 Madrid train bombings — initially blamed on ETA by the Spanish government until evidence of Al Qaeda-inspired terrorism emerged — Ballesta said: “Give 72 hours to those who know what to do and see how quickly this ends. What Spanish society wants is to hold on to the law, but if you act how you need to act against these sons-of-bitches it’s an attack against humanity. But I see things clearly and I’ve got the balls to stand here and say it.”

During a game in Balaídos in 2009, the Celta sang songs inviting ETA to “shoot Ballesta in the head,” while Barcelona once reported the forward to the LFP’s disciplinary commission after he opined that “I have more respect for dog shit” than Oleguer Presas, a former Barcelona defender famed for his support of Catalan independence.

Resino, who recruited Ballesta to serve as his assistant at his next post last summer, was presented as Celta’s coach on Tuesday. He said the decision to jettison Ballesta had been taken by the club and that going over it further was simply “wasting time we need to prepare for the next game against Granada.”

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