JEDDAH (Reuters) - Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has concerns with the new format of the Spanish Super Cup and said that playing the competition in Saudi Arabia is a consequence of the football industry’s desire to find more revenue streams.
The Super Cup traditionally kickstarted the season in Spain with a two-legged contest between the Copa del Rey winners and La Liga champions although the 2018 edition was played as a one-off game in Tangier, Morocco.
Last year the Spanish football federation (RFEF) agreed to double the number of teams and take the competition outside Spain permanently as well as moving it from August to January.
The federation has signed a three-year deal to play the competition in Saudi Arabia, which Spanish media say is worth 40 million euros ($44 million) annually.
“I know there have been rumblings but football these days is an industry,” Valverde told a news conference ahead of Barca’s semi-final match against Atletico Madrid in Jeddah on Thursday.
“The reason why we are here and why we were in Morocco is because the authorities are looking for more sources of income.”
The move has been criticised by supporters’ groups for excluding the teams’ traditional fanbase and from campaign groups such as Amnesty International due to the conservative Muslim kingdom’s record on human rights.
Valverde also questioned the merits of opening the competition up to Atletico and Real Madrid, who ended last season empty handed.
Barca and Valencia qualify for the Super Cup as league and cup winners respectively, while Atletico earned one of the new berths due to coming second in La Liga.
The last spot was intended for the cup runners-up but as Barca had already qualified, Real took the vacant place due to their superior cup record over Real Betis, last year’s other losing semi-finalists.
“For me it’s strange to play the Super Cup with two guest teams. It’s clear that these games are exciting for the crowd but from a sporting point of view there is only one league champion and there is only one cup winner,” added the coach.
“It was always the first trophy of the season between the league and cup winners, I thought that format was fine but it has been changed. When the competition is over we’ll be able to say whether it has gone well or not.”
Reporting by Richard Martin; Editing by Toby Davis