JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia (AP) — Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde didn’t try to sugarcoat the reasons that prompted the Spanish soccer federation to take the Super Cup to Saudi Arabia, acknowledging Wednesday that they were there for the money.
Valverde made his comments a day before Barcelona faced Atlético Madrid in the revamped competition that was being played for the first time in Saudi Arabia thanks to a lucrative three-year deal reached by the Spanish federation despite criticism from human rights activists.
“I know a lot is talked about what happens here, but you have to understand that football is an industry today,” Valverde said. “There is always the need to find new sources of revenue. That’s really why we are here.”
Real Madrid was set to play Valencia in the first semifinal on Wednesday.
Valverde said he would rather keep the old format of the competition, when only the Spanish league champion and the Copa dey Rey winner participated and the final was played in Spain with home-and-away games.
“It’s not the same thing as playing at home, but here we are,” Valverde said. “If I could choose, I would prefer the old format, but it’s the federation that makes these decisions.”
The Super Cup was also played abroad last season, when Barcelona beat Sevilla in Tangiers, Morocco, in a single-game final.
Barcelona’s news conference was delayed as the team had difficulties arriving at the venue because of traffic.
The federation’s deal to play in Saudi Arabia was reportedly worth 120 million euros ($134 million). The federation said the agreement will help Spain in its attempt to host the 2030 World Cup in a joint bid with Portugal.
The decision to play in Saudi Arabia went against advice from UEFA President Aleksander Ceferin for European soccer teams not to play in countries “where the basic rights of women are not respected.”
Amnesty International organized a small peaceful protest in front of the Saudi Arabia embassy in Madrid on Wednesday to call for the release of women activists who have been fighting for their rights in Saudi Arabia.
Barcelona is the most successful club in the Spanish Super Cup with 13 titles, three more than Real Madrid.
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