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.
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