“What matters now is to generate money”: the Real-Barça clasico in Saudi Arabia creates controversy

At 5,000 kilometers from the Iberian Peninsula and at 30 degrees, the Spanish Super Cup is back in Saudi Arabia, with an enticing clasico Real Madrid – FC Barcelone from this Wednesday evening (8 p.m., live and unscrambled on the L’Equipe Channel) in the first semi-final at King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh.

The second semi-final will oppose Thursday (8 p.m.) Atlético Madrid, reigning Spanish champion, to Athletic Bilbao, winner of the Spanish Supercup in January 2021 in Seville. The final of the 2022 edition will take place on Sunday (7:30 p.m.) at the King-Fahd International Stadium (67,000 seats).

Like its French or Italian counterparts, the Spanish federation has chosen to export to revitalize this declining competition. The Spanish federation (RFEF) had signed a contract with this Gulf monarchy to relocate the competition there for three years in exchange for € 120 million, “entirely intended to improve non-professional football”, according to the RFEF.

However, depending on their career, and their history in the competition, the income of the clubs varies, with, as luck would have it, a larger share reserved for the two historic Barcelona and Madrid.

Almost 7 million euros for Real and Barça

Indeed, the newspaper Écrit Sports World that each club participating in the competition is guaranteed to receive € 800,000, but that Barça and Real will each receive € 6.8 million each, even if they are eliminated in the semi-final. If one of these two clubs wins the competition, it could receive up to € 12 million. By way of comparison, Athletic Bilbao, winner last season of the edition organized in Seville, had collected “only” € 2 million.

After a first relocation to Tangier, Morocco, in 2018, and a blank year in 2019, the organizers have revised the formula: exit the dry match between the Spanish champion and the winner of the Spanish Cup. From now on, the Spanish Supercup is played by four teams, the first two of the last Liga and the two finalists of the last Copa del Rey, which in practice guarantees the lucrative presence of Real and Barça.

After a detour forced by Andalusia in January 2021 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, which had led to a breathless final between the Basques and Barça (3-2 after extra time), this competition in an expanded format since 2019 finds again Saudi Arabia this year.

If the controversies around the rights of women (who had obtained permission to access stadiums to attend matches) had punctuated the first Saudi edition in 2020 in Jeddah, on the shores of the Red Sea, Spain did not this time there was no controversy over the practices of this ultraconservative kingdom highly criticized by human rights defenders and which has been relying for several years on sport to improve its image.

“I’m very clear, it doesn’t make sense”

And the supporters will be there: the 30,000 places available for the prestigious first semi-final between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid (limit gauge set by local authorities) were sold in less than an hour, snatched by the locals who can’t wait to see superstars like Karim Benzema and Gerard Pique play on their soil.

In the Spanish stadiums, La Liga resumed after the holidays on the basis of a gauge at 75% of the maximum gauge.

After the first clasico of the season in La Liga, won 2-1 by Real at Camp Nou on October 24, newcomer coaches Carlo Ancelotti (Real) and Xavi (Barça) will seek this week to win their first title since taking office . And as Ancelotti says, “a clasico is a clasico, and it always will be.”

For his part, Raul Garcia, captain of Athletic Bilbao, does not appreciate that the Spanish Super Cup is relocated to Saudi Arabia, as he made it known this Wednesday from Riyadh.

“I’m very clear, it doesn’t make sense,” said the Spain striker. We play a tournament that is unique to our country and I think going abroad to play it makes no sense. These matches should take place in Spain. I am from the old school and I see that football has changed. Nobody cares about the supporters anymore. What matters now is to generate money, to attract sponsors. I think we are forgetting the basics of football, this atmosphere which makes the matches different, the supporters who watch the matches as a family, the schedules accessible to everyone (…) Since I started playing football, it has changed a lot and it makes me sad, I’m not going to lie to you. “

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