BARCELONA COACH, VALVERDE, SLAMS OFFSHORE SPANISH SUPER CUP

Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde, whose team has been eliminated from the final of the Spanish Super Cup, has countered Spanish football chief Luis Rubiales’ assertion that the Spanish Super Cup “has taken a big step forward” after moving to Saudi Arabia.

Traditionalists have been fuming since the competition – which in the past pitted the La Liga champions against the Copa del Rey winners – was expanded to a four-team format this season.

And not only has the date been moved from its traditional August slot, the venue has been moved outside of Spain. Last year, the final was hosted in Tangier, Morocco.

Expressing his concerns with the three-year deal worth €40 million (S$60 million) annually to stage the Cup in Saudi Arabia, Valverde, whose team are in the Gulf kingdom along with Real Madrid, Valencia and Atletico Madrid, felt that “football these days is an industry”.

He said yesterday: “I know there have been rumblings… The reason why we are here and Morocco is because the authorities are looking for more sources of income.”

He also questioned the participation of Atletico and Real after both finished empty-handed last term, whereas Barcelona and Valencia are the La Liga and Copa del Rey winners respectively.

“For me, it’s strange to play the Super Cup with two guest teams,” he said. “It’s clear that these games are exciting for the crowd, but there is only one league champion and there is only one cup winner.”

Rubiales, however, believes his revamp has made the Super Cup “the most important short tournament in the world”.

Speaking after Real beat Valencia 3-1 to qualify for Sunday’s final, he said: “When we planned the changes last year, we didn’t know which teams would be playing. But by betting on this format, we knew we would turn a low-key summer event into a huge competition.”

Rejecting the backlash from human rights groups who have accused Saudi Arabia of trying to “sports wash” its questionable record, he claimed the Cup could be a catalyst for change.

Noting that Wednesday was the first time local women attended a match without restrictions – previously they had to sit in a special “family” section – he added: “Football can open up doors and I feel very positive today after seeing women and girls in the crowd.”

The Cup is the latest push by the Saudis to boost their image through the hosting of big sporting events.

The Dakar Rally kicked off on Sunday, just a month after the big-money heavyweight boxing bout between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr. The inaugural Saudi Cup, the world’s richest horse race, will be staged next month.

-Reuters