Barcelona players critical of Asian tour

August 1, 2007

MADRID, Aug 1 (Reuters) - Italy fullback Gianluca Zambrotta has joined France defender Lilian Thuram in questioning the wisdom of Barcelona's nine-day pre-season 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 on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Thuram said: 'It isn't good for the team's preparation but that's the way football is these days and all the world's big clubs do them (tours).'

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.

They said the punishing schedule of promotional events, travelling and friendly matches disrupted their training so they were not at peak fitness for when the season kicked off.

Barca finished second in the Primera Liga and failed to win any major trophies last season.

However, Barcelona president Joan Laporta brushed aside the players' objections.

'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,' he told a news conference.

'The tour is important for sporting and economic reasons, and to promote the image of the club around the world.'

The Catalan club's bosses claim they have learned their lessons and have planned a shorter tour with fewer commitments.

They set out for Beijing on Thursday and return to Spain on Aug. 11, after having played three friendlies in nine days.

On Aug. 5, they face Beijing Guoan in the Chinese capital and two days later play Yokohama Marinos in Japan. On Aug. 10, they take on the Mission Hills Invitation XI in Hong Kong.