MADRID (AFP) - Barcelona has once again defended its pre-season tour of Asia, which has come under fire by some players, saying it will give the team contact with its growing number of supporters in the region.
"The tour gives the team a unique way to maintain contact with more than 100 million Barca fans on the continent," the club said in a statement on its website on Thursday before the team departed for Beijing.
The number of Barcelona supporters in China has gone up six-fold in the last three years and seven-fold in the same period in Japan, the statement said.
Barcelona, who finished second in the Primera Liga last season, will play two exhibition matches in China and one in Japan before returning to Spain on August 11.
Barcelona defenders Gianluca Zambrotta and Lilian Thuram have criticised the tour, arguing it will hamper training for the Spanish championship that kicks off on August 25.
"I don't think it's the best way for the team to prepare. But that is how football is and all the big clubs do it nowadays," Thuram said on Tuesday.
Barcelona president Joan Laporta has downplayed the objections, saying a pre-season tour of Asia carried out two years ago did not stop the club from winning the Primera Liga and the Champions League.
The club went on a two-week pre-season tour of the United States and Mexico in August 2006 which was blamed by several players, including Ronaldinho, for their lack of peak fitness when the season began.
But Laporta said the club had learned its lessons from previous tours and have planned a less demanding trip.
"For the players, in terms of physical preparation, it is better to work at home. But we have learned how to organise these trips. I think everyone will be satisfied," he said.
The exhibition matches will be broadcast on local television in China and Japan with the rights to the games sold to a further 70 countries around the world, Barcelona said.
Barcelona and arch-rivals Real Madrid top the list of the world's biggest football clubs based on revenue.
The club managed a net profit of 6.8 million euros (9.3 million US dollars) last season, based on overall income of 290.1 million euros.
About half of its business merchandising revenues are now earned abroad while nearly 77 percent of its television audiences are outside Spain, the club said.
Barcelona will face Beijing Guoan on August 5 in the Chinese capital and Yokohama Marinos in Tokyo two days later.
The team will then face Mission Hills Invitation XI, a squad made up of players from Kitchee FC and Happy Valley FC, in Hong Kong on August 10.
|BREAKING NEWS: Ter Stegen agrees Barcelona renewal until 2022|
|Bartra feared for his career after Dortmund bus attack|
|Dortmund confirm knee ligament damage for Reus|
|Calm down - Mendy cools talk of City move with Paris video|
|AC Milan losing patience over Donnarumma|
|Terry eyes Wembley return as a manager|
|Coman pondered Bayern exit|
|Four fans die after stampede ahead of Honduran final|
|Mijatovic magic, Zidane heartache - Real Madrid and Juventus´ 1998 Champions League final|
|Moses is not a cheat - Conte|
|MLS Review: Atlanta too good for New York City, Dallas draw|
|Totti could´ve played for any big club – Ramos hails Roma great|
|Wenger: FA Cup win my presentation for new deal|
|I´m crazy about returning to Spain – Nolito eyes City exit|
|Roma defender Emerson suffers anterior cruciate ligament injury|
|Zenit sack Lucescu after missing out on Champions League|
|This was probably my last game for Benfica - Ederson hints at Man City move|
|Empoli relegated as Crotone beat Lazio to secure Serie A survival|
|Lorient 0 Troyes 0 (1-2 agg): Goalless draw sees visitors promoted to Ligue 1|
|Dzeko´s 29 goals claim Serie A Capocannoniere|
|Inter 5 Udinese 2: Perisic stars in crushing victory|
|Ausilio confirms Manchester United interest in Perisic|
|Totti: I´m not ready to say it´s over|
|Totti is not normal - De Rossi emotional after Roma icon´s farewell|
|Twenty-five seasons, 307 goals, one incredible legacy – the numbers behind Totti´s remarkable career|
|Sampdoria 2 Napoli 4: Comprehensive win not enough to snatch second place|
|Roma 3 Genoa 2: Perotti seals Champions League berth in dream farewell for Totti|
|Leave him alone! - Montella shrugs off Donnarumma error|
|I didn´t want to leave Real Madrid - Ronaldo|
|The offside rule is crazy - Cahill hits out at Sanchez FA Cup goal|
|I think Rooney wants to leave Manchester United, says Robson|
|Cagliari 2 AC Milan 1: Pisacane late show seals fitting Stadio Sant´Elia farewell|
|Inter announce Palacio departure|
|Courtois ready to sign new Chelsea contract|
|Everyone wrote me off - Critics inspired Mertesacker before Arsenal triumph|
|Emery never feared the sack at PSG|
|Barcelona future not in my hands – Paco Alcacer|
|Varane wants to see Mbappe alongside history-maker Ronaldo|
|Iniesta: I needed Busquets´ help to lift the Copa del Rey trophy!|
|Man United capable of anything - Lingard eyes glory next season|
|Freiburg´s Grifo signs Borussia Monchengladbach deal|
|Verratti expects to be at PSG next season amid Barcelona rumours|
|Coquelin: FA Cup win was for Wenger and we want him to stay|
|Ibrahimovic wanted by ´many clubs´, but he´ll stay in Europe - Raiola|
|Matuidi unsure about PSG future amid Man United links|
|Al-Khelaifi certain Emery will stay at PSG|
|MLS Review: Galaxy win Clasico, Sporting KC beaten|
|He will be at the Wanda Metropolitano – Atletico hint at Griezmann stay|
|Mexico 1 Croatia 2: Hernandez breaks record in surprise loss|
|Mexico 1 Croatia 2: Hernandez breaks record in surprise loss|
|Luis Enrique hails ´extraterrestrial´ Messi|
|Every player wants to play more – Fabregas cagey on Chelsea future after final omission|
|Tuchel hopes to continue as Borussia Dortmund boss|
|Kompany adamant Stones ´has everything´|
|People talk too much about China - Costa would only leave Chelsea for Atletico|
|Conte clear-headed for close season after Chelsea´s Wembley woe|
|Conte: Sanchez´s goal should not have stood|
|Neymar equals Puskas´ record in Copa final|
|Carrick signs new one-year Manchester United deal|
|Barcelona 3 Alaves 1: Messi magic secures Luis Enrique parting gift|
|Angers 0 Paris Saint-Germain 1: Cissokho own goal in stoppage time delivers Coupe de France glory|
|Ridiculous to base my future on one match - Wenger|
|Allegri turns focus to Champions League after ´beautiful´ season|
|Eintracht Frankfurt 1 Borussia Dortmund 2: Audacious Aubameyang penalty seals DFB-Pokal crown in sty|
|Ramsey wants Wenger to stay after scoring FA Cup final winner|
|On Wednesday it will be clearer – Wenger reiterates stance on his future despite FA Cup glory|
|Wenger should bow out in glory after Wembley thriller|
|Silva attracted by Watford´s ambition|
|Arsenal and Wenger set new FA Cup records|
|Teenager Kean makes history with Juve winner|
|Arsenal 2 Chelsea 1: Ramsey the hero again as Gunners win record 13th FA Cup|
|Moses sent off following dive in FA Cup final|
|Bologna 1 Juventus 2: Kean´s first goal secures win|
|Hasenhuttl acknowledges RB Leipzig could lose Keita and Forsberg|
|Making history is not easy! - Rodgers lauds Celtic´s identity after Scottish Cup triumph|
|Celtic 2 Aberdeen 1: Late Rogic moment of magic seals unbeaten domestic treble|
|Montella urges Donnarumma to ´use his head´ amid Milan exit speculation|
|Spalletti not drawn on Inter links as he eyes second place with Roma|
|FA Cup final: Ospina starts for Arsenal with Chelsea stars primed for double|
|Vecchi demands ´blood, sweat and tears´ from Inter players|
|Totti is used by the media - Spalletti frustrated by focus on Roma captain|
|Falcao wants Monaco stay|
|Sergio Ramos is tattooing every week – Varela bemused by Frankfurt banishment|
|Juventus stalwart Tacchinardi ´betting on Higuain´ to settle Champions League|
|Mertens renews Napoli deal|
|Romero wants to become United´s number one|
|El Shaarawy and Montolivo handed Italy recalls|
|Ex-Newcastle boss Pardew not interested in Sunderland job|
|Watford appoint Silva|
|A disgrace I will never forget – Wenger savages Arsenal critics|
|Mourinho: Griezmann? Ask Ed Woodward|
|Raiola denies Donnarumma threat from AC Milan ahead of contract talks|
|Zabaleta challenges West Ham to believe in winning trophies|
|Ajax defender Sanchez would love to play for Barcelona|
|Kane beats Kante to PFA Fans´ Player of the Season prize|
|Kane will stay at Tottenham but others may think we´re ´a nearly club´, says Rose|
|Stopping Messi the main concern for reported Real Madrid target Hernandez|
|Asensio: Rafa Nadal told Real Madrid to sign me|
|Chelsea star Hazard yet to receive new contract offer|
|Emery desperate to win Coupe de France|
|Toronto 5 Columbus Crew 0: Eastern Conference leaders cruise|
|Hazard unfazed by comparisons to ´leaders´ Messi, Ronaldo|
|Zidane hails ´extraordinary´ Buffon|
|Wenger to give away FA Cup medal if Arsenal beat Chelsea|
|Conte eyes Chelsea extension to reward Abramovich faith|
|Gerrard to take on Man Utd again in Carrick´s testimonial|
|Bernardo hoping to learn Silva service from Manchester City star namesake|