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.
|Randolph set for Middlesbrough move after Hart arrival|
|MLS an option for Mascherano|
|Sevilla to take legal action against Vitolo, Atletico and Las Palmas|
|Stuani quits Middlesbrough for LaLiga new boys Girona|
|Cerci: I gave up a lot of money to leave Atletico|
|Joining Chelsea from Real Madrid like ´leaving home´ for Morata|
|Ancelotti working to make Sanches an AC Milan fan|
|Neymar unaffected by PSG speculation - Barca team-mate Mascherano|
|Mendy left out of Sporting friendly amid talk of Manchester City move|
|Borussia Dortmund interested before Tianjin Quanjian move - Modeste|
|Torres torment or Drogba delight - how will Morata stack up against Chelsea´s big-money buys?|
|Morata becomes Spain´s most expensive player - how did Torres, Mata & more fare?|
|Chelsea sign Real Madrid striker Morata|
|James: I can replace Messi and Ronaldo|
|Eremenko doping ban upheld by CAS|
|PSV defender Willems joins Eintracht|
|Van Dijk training alone as he wants to leave Southampton|
|Luring Bonucci from Juventus an important sign - Abate|
|Klopp hopes for Lucas return after tearful Liverpool goodbye|
|Sparta Prague bring in Lille captain Mavuba|
|Hajduk ordered to play behind closed doors after racist incident|
|Liverpool sign Robertson from Hull City|
|Arsenal versus Chelsea is never a friendly - Wenger|
|Zouma seals long-term Chelsea contract extension and Stoke loan|
|Inter 1 Schalke 1: Murillo hits stunning equaliser as Perisic makes appearance|
|Cahill: Terry is a huge loss for Chelsea|
|Newcastle seal Manquillo signing|
|LaLiga fixtures: Atletico Madrid start with three away games|
|LaLiga fixtures: Madrid to juggle Clasico plans with Club World Cup commitments|
|LaLiga fixtures: Barcelona host late-season Clasico|
|LaLiga key fixtures: Clasico on December 20, Madrid derby after World Cup play-offs|
|Conte declares Costa saga ´closed´, suggests decision to sell was made in January|
|LaLiga fixtures: Madrid travel to Deportivo on opening weekend as Barcelona host Betis|
|Benteke ´very happy´ at Crystal Palace amid Everton links|
|Conte: Morata was my first choice for Chelsea|
|Schar ends Hoffenheim troubles with Deportivo switch|
|Bonucci, Biglia and Mr X? Fassone teases on Milan transfer target|
|Ronaldo staying at Madrid and that´s it - Zidane|
|Kolarov close to Roma move as Guardiola hails City debutant Foden|
|Klopp insists Coutinho is going nowhere amid Barcelona interest|
|Shakespeare confirms Leicester rejected Roma bid for Mahrez|
|Mourinho: Manchester United need to sign more players|
|Neymar ´very happy´ to stay at Barcelona, says Roberto|
|Barca star Neymar teases fans amid PSG speculation|
|Mexico 1 Honduras 0: Defending champions into semi-finals again|
|Manchester United 2 Manchester City 0: Lukaku scores again in ICC derby|
|Jamaica 2 Canada 1: Reigning Gold Cup runners-up reach semis|
|Ceballos: I want to be like Modric, Kroos|
|Man United target Aurier wants to leave PSG – Emery|
|Ibrahimovic sends message to Man United as he steps up recovery|
|RB Leipzig ´lucky´ with Keita, says Klopp|
|Torino don´t want to sell Belotti as Vieri urges striker to join Milan|
|Donnarumma trying to imitate Bayern´s Neuer|
|Carrick backs Pogba for United captaincy|
|Zidane lauds talented Mbappe as Madrid circle Monaco star|
|Everton, Zenit and PSV learn Europa League opponents as Galatasaray suffer shock exit|
|Africa Cup of Nations expanded and moved to June and July|
|Cillessen happy at Barcelona and denies Crystal Palace links|
|RFEF president Villar held in custody amid corruption case|
|Bonucci aims to follow AC Milan legends Baresi, Costacurta, Maldini|
|DFB punishes Borussia Dortmund over crowd disorder|
|Neymar not for sale - Bartomeu gives FFP warning to PSG|
|Griffiths given Champions League ban over Linfield incident|
|Real Madrid places up for grabs - Bale|
|BREAKING NEWS: Hernandez set to join West Ham from Leverkusen|
|Bernardeschi misses Fiorentina training camp amid Juventus move reports|
|Monaco warn clubs over illegal Mbappe approaches|
|Hughton ´very hopeful´ over Knockaert injury|
|Morata perfect for Premier League but Lukaku has advantage - Karanka|
|Whelan ends nine-year Stoke City stay by joining Aston Villa|
|Hoeness tells Sammer to ´say little´ about Bayern|
|Altidore´s girlfriend: Only I can grab Jozy´s nipples!|
|Perisic to play on Inter tour as Manchester United bid stalls|
|Defrel reunited with Di Francesco at Roma|
|Bonucci and Ramos best in the world, says Milan boss Montella|
|Injured Thiago out of Bayern pre-season tour|
|Klopp helped me a lot - Liverpool captain Henderson reflects on injury woe|
|Rashford: Lukaku partnership could fire Man Utd to glory|
|De Sciglio completes €12m Juventus switch|
|Insigne eyes Scudetto success... and the tattoo to match|
|Mourinho: Manchester United can´t compete with clubs who buy and buy and buy|
|Lewandowski happy to see Aubameyang stay at Dortmund|
|Morata: Conte has shown the most faith in me|
|Neymar signing ´would be good´ for PSG, says Silva|
|Chelsea eyeing all titles this season - Kante|
|Neymar could make PSG Champions League contenders - Emery|
|MLS Review: Red Bulls put five past Earthquakes, Sounders rally from 3-0 down|
|PSG target Neymar and Barca arrive in New York|
|Morata says goodbye to Real Madrid ahead of Chelsea move|
|Mourinho unfazed by Morata´s Chelsea move|
|United States 2 El Salvador 0: Hosts advance to Gold Cup semis|
|Roma 1 Paris Saint-Germain 1 (3-5 pens): Alves makes debut in win|
|Rummenigge names Sanches price as he doubts Milan can meet Bayern demands|
|Messi a machine built for football – Xavi|
|Costa Rica 1 Panama 0: Godoy own goal the difference|
|Kompany: Man Utd star Lukaku believes he´s best in the world|
|Mourinho: Guardiola rivalry has eased|
|Lennon steps up Everton return with goal in Twente friendly|
|Morata ´very happy´ as Chelsea move nears|