Los Angeles: The logistics of Barcelona's North American tour are tough enough, coach Luis Enrique makes no apologies for letting stars including Lionel Messi skip the pre-season excursion. The Spanish giants landed in Los Angeles on Sunday to begin preparations for a three-match tour that opens with a game against Major League Soccer's Los Angeles Galaxy at the Rose Bowl on Tuesday.
Enrique and captain Andres Iniesta were fresh off the bus from the airport when they met with the media, the team having been cheered upon arrival at their hotel by a gaggle of Barcelona fans. Asked if he owed those fans a chance to see players like Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi and Brazilian Neymar, Enrique said his first duty was to get those players some much-needed time off.
"That's simple to answer," he said. "We have to give a certain minimum number of days of vacation for players to recover from a season that is seemingly eternal," said Enrique, who has excused Messi, Neymar, goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, midfielder Javier Mascherano and fullback Dani Alvez from the tour after they competed in the Copa America. "The bottom line is, these players need to rest."
After taking on the Galaxy, the Champions League winners will travel north to take on Manchester United at the home of the NFL's San Francisco 49ers on Saturday. They complete their US swing against English champions Chelsea on July 28 in suburban Washington DC. They will play Fiorentina in Florence on August 2 as part of the same International Champions Cup exhibition tournament.
"As a trainer, the truth is I would rather not do tours," Enrique admitted. Like many other managers, he finds the travel demands and other details take time away from training. "Even though the countries can be great and it can be great to travel, things like the change of time zones can have repercussions and you can have fewer trainings and that can affect the team negatively."
Although the tour includes such potentially distracting sidelines as meetings with NBA superstar Kobe Bryant as well as with members of the NBA champion Golden State Warriors, Enrique and Iniesta are both keen to get the focus on the field. "As far as training goes, the beginning is very important," Iniesta said. "That is what counts because you have not trained for a long time."
The team travelled shortly after the re-election of Josep Maria Bartomeu as president of the club by their members. Incumbent Bartomeu saw off rival Joan Laporta in an election that Bartomeu called early, when tensions within the club were running high because of poor relations between Enrique and Messi.
Enrique declined to address the election on Sunday, while Iniesta said he hoped the resolution would allow the club to focus on trying to repeat the stellar feats of last season, when they won the treble of Champions League, La Liga and Copa Del Rey.