A new venture begins this week for Saudi Arabia and Spanish football with the expanded Supercopa de Espana.
The Middle East nation emerged triumphant in November after a fevered bidding process that was also, reportedly, contested by Qatar, China and India. Their superior offer – valued at €120 million by Spanish media – won the right to hold a revamped, four-team version from 2020-22.
La Liga champions Barcelona, Copa del Rey holders Valencia, plus Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid, will all contest this year’s event at Jeddah’s 62,000-capacity King Abdullah Sports City from January 8-12.
But why did the Kingdom accede to demands for such a high price and what are the Spanish Football Federation [RFEF] getting out of it? Read on to find out…
WHAT IS THE SPANISH SUPER CUP?
The Supercopa is the annual meeting between the La Liga and Copa del Rey holders, traditionally held in a two-legged format before the top flight kicks off.
Marked change has been afoot, however, in the preceding 18 months. In 2018, it was contested in a single match at a neutral venue for the first time.
The success of that August’s running at Morocco’s intense Stade Ibn Batouta and a desire to reduce “congestion” on teams’ schedules were cited as cause to grow on this revolution for the 36th edition – and beyond.
For the foreseeable future, the La Liga champions and runners-up will battle the Copa del Rey’s champions and runners-up in mid-season. Plus, more than 6,000 kilometres away from the Spanish heartland.
Rampant debate followed the decision. RFEF president Luis Rubiales has, however, been vehement in his belief that the Supercopa’s old format was “doomed to death” and their windfall will be to the betterment of all sections of the nation’s pastime.
“The Super Cup was doomed to death,” said Rubiales in November.
“The money we will get is not for building a villa. It will go to women’s football and the clubs in Segunda B and Tercera.
“Of course money is important, who can deny that? Money is very important, but the money will go where it is needed.”
This windfall will include a guaranteed €6m each for Barca and Madrid, while Valencia and Atleti pocket €3m each. If the Clasico giants, Barca and Madrid, make the final, their totals will swell to €10m.
WHY DID SAUDI ARABIA WANT IT?
Virtually all major sports have been touched by the grand ambition of ‘Saudi Vision 2030’.
December’s ‘Clash on the Dunes’ witnessed the rematch between heavyweight boxers Andy Ruiz Jr. and Anthony Joshua for a reported purse of more than £60m at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Al-Turaif, Riyadh. Golf’s European Tour, football’s Supercoppa Italiana plus Brazil v Argentina friendlies, the world-famous Dakar Rally, Formula E and last month’s inaugural Diriyah Tennis Cup have also been hosted.
These all come under the umbrella of the bold plan announced by Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, to great fanfare in April 2016. It entails reducing the Kingdom’s dependence on oil, diversifying its economy and developing public service sectors such as health, education, infrastructure, recreation and tourism.
This desire to enact far-reaching social and lifestyle changes, plus attract hordes of new tourists and bolster recreation activities, has been at the heart of the Saudis’ vast investment in sport. In July, the General Sports Authority [GSA] injected $650m to this venture.
“We are fully prepared to host the top four teams from Spain, and I am sure football fans here in Saudi Arabia are very excited to see their favourite Spanish clubs in action,” Prince Abdul Aziz bin Turki Al-Faisal, chairman of the GSA, told Arab News.
“Hosting global sports events is part of our long term (plan) and we are pushing our credentials as an international actor through sport. Saudi Arabia has recently hosted a number of events, such as the Italian Super Cup between Juventus and Lazio, Brazil v Argentina, Formula E racing, the Joshua-Ruiz boxing match, golf’s European Tour tournament, the tennis exhibition tournament, Dakar Rally, with more still to come.
“One of the key visions in the ‘Vision 2030’ is to promote and grow sports within the Kingdom.”
Back-page headlines have been garnered in recent months about reputed Saudi Arabian intentions to takeover Premier League giants Manchester United. But domestic ventures, at this stage, remain intrinsic to the scope of ‘Vision 2030’.
22:00 (KSA) Valencia v Real Madrid
22:00 (KSA) Barcelona v Atletico Madrid
21:00 (KSA) Valencia/Real Madrid v Barcelona/Atletico Madrid