Former Manchester United striker Eric Cantona has courted controversy by suggesting that Spain’s 2010 World Cup victory was a product of the influence of Barcelona players on the team.

The legendary French footballer was speaking ahead of the Laureus Sports Awards, which take place in Shanghai on Wednesday.

His comments will rile up emotions between sections of people because Barcelona is an emblem of Catalonia, a region that, while technically under the authority of Spain; speaks its own language, flies its own flag, tells its own history and has long sought autonomy from the country.

Cantona, who won four titles during his spell with United and came in third in the Ballon d’Or in 1993 behind Roberto Baggio and Dennis Bergkamp, is remembered as much for his incredible accomplishments as he is for his outrageous comments during his time in soccer.

Perhaps his most memorable moment took place when he launched a kung-fu kick at a Crystal Palace supporter during a match in January 1995.  He was subsequently banned from English football for eight months and ordered to carry out 120 hours of community service after he was found guilty of assault.

Cantona has never shied away from sharing his thoughts on a variety of topics, and will undoubtedly spark contention with his latest comments about the Spanish national team’s previous success.

“Catalonia won the World Cup,” he said during his press conference prior to the awards.

“Spain won it with ten Barcelona players in the team. Spain did not win the World Cup, Catalonia did. Barcelona won it.

“I’m sure that as soon as the youth set-up from Barcelona and other Spanish teams draw new, good players, Spain will emerge again.”

Cantona, also predicted that Manchester United will recapture their dominance of English football under the guidance of Louis van Gaal, while sharing his thoughts on his former side’s derby day victory over Manchester City.

“The derby’s a special game, so it’s great to win the derby,” Cantona added. “I was proud and very glad. It’s good because now they are the kings of the city again.

“City have won the league twice, so they have been successful, also but they cannot win every year because the Premier League is so strong, it has so many clubs, so many rich clubs.

“Some of them work on the young players and can buy the best players in the world, like United. I prefer this kind of club, who are rich enough to buy the best players they want, and also works on young players.

“United is a great club, so sometimes you have a season when you have to lose games and you finish fourth, fifth. But they came back and next year they can win the league. With a manager from Holland, it seems to be important for Manchester United because it’s the same kind of philosophy for the game: Holland and Manchester United.”