Barcelona answers critics of Asian commercial tour

Italy fullback Gianluca Zambrotta has joined France defender Lilian Thuram in questioning the wisdom of Spanish Primera Liga club Barcelona's nine-day pre-season commercial tour to Asia. "It would be better to stay here and prepare really well for next season. It's a long way and it isn't easy for the players," Zambrotta told a news conference after Thuram had complained the tour "isn't good for the team's preparation." Some of Barca's players, including Brazilian playmaker Ronaldinho, blamed last August's two-week pre-season tour to the United States and Mexico as one of the reasons for their poor showing in the last campaign.

However club officials told Reuters they have planned a shorter tour with fewer commitments. They set out for Beijing on Thursday and return to Spain on 11 August after having played three friendlies in nine days. On 5 August they face China Super League club Beijing Guoan in the Chinese capital and two days later play J-League club Yokohama Marinos in Japan. On 10 August they take on the Mission Hills Invitation XI consisting of players from Kitchee and Happy Valley clubs in Hong Kong.

"We have a heritage of 150,000 members and we have to take the greatest advantage of it. There are sports-related, economic and (market) positioning reasons to go on a tour of Asia," Barcelona president Joan Laporta told a news conference. I respect all the different opinions but two years ago we did a pre-season tour to Asia and went on to win the Champions League and the Primera Liga."