• 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 reason why we are here and why we were in Morocco is because the authorities are looking for more sources of income — VALVERDE
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 $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 yesterday.
“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.”
Meanwhile, Spanish football federation chief Luis Rubiales said the Super Cup has grown significantly in stature with its move to Saudi Arabia.
Rubiales angered Spanish soccer traditionalists by expanding the contest between the league champions and Copa del Rey winners to a four-team format, shifting the event from August to January and pledging to take it outside Spain.
He also faced a huge a backlash from campaign groups for signing a three-year deal to play the competition in Saudi Arabia, which is frequently accused of human rights abuses and where women were banned from attending matches until 2018.
“Today the Super Cup has taken a big step forward,” Rubiales told reporters after the match at the King Abdullah Sports City stadium, which will also host Thursday’s semi-final between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
“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. Now it’s the most important short tournament in the world.”
Rubiales has sought to counter the backlash against choosing Saudi Arabia as hosts by arguing that the tournament could open up the conservative Muslim kingdom to the world.
He reiterated that football could be a catalyst for change. Wednesday’s match was the first that women could watch live without restrictions having previously had to sit in a special ‘family’ section of the stadium.
“Football is not the solution to anything but it can open up doors and I feel very positive today after seeing women and girls in the crowd today,” he added.