Barcelona's campaign to defend the revamped Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia got off to an inauspicious start as they arrived late for a training session in Jeddah on Wednesday, with a club source saying their bus driver had headed to the wrong location.
The team were due to prepare for Thursday's semi-final against Atletico Madrid at local side Al-Ittihad Club's training ground, but the driver instead took them to the King Abdullah Sport City Stadium where Super Cup matches are taking place.
The two venues are separated by over 30 kilometres and the team's bus finally arrived at the training ground 45 minutes behind schedule, delayed by the coastal city's notorious traffic levels.
Coach Ernesto Valverde and midfielder Sergio Busquets were due to give a news conference before the training session but spoke to the media after the training session due to their late arrival.
Real Madrid beat Valencia in the opening match on Wednesday, which used to be a season curtain raiser but has been turned into a money-spinning event after federation president Luis Rubiales implemented radical changes last year.
Federation members approved expanding the competition's format from two teams to four, switching the date from August to January and transplanting it abroad.
A three-year deal to hold the tournament in Saudi Arabia was announced last November which Spanish media say is worth around 40 million euros ($44 million) annually, angering human rights groups and the four teams' traditional supporter base.
Barca coach not in favour of revamped Super Cup
Barcelona coach Ernesto Valverde has concerns with the new format of the Spanish Super Cup and said that playing the competition in Saudi Arabia is a consequence of the football industry's desire to find more revenue streams.
The Super Cup traditionally kickstarted the season in Spain with a two-legged contest between the Copa del Rey winners and La Liga champions although the 2018 edition was played as a one-off game in Tangier, Morocco.
Last year the Spanish football federation (RFEF) agreed to double the number of teams and take the competition outside Spain permanently as well as moving it from August to January.
The federation has signed a three-year deal to play the competition in Saudi Arabia, which Spanish media say is worth 40 million euros ($44 million) annually.
"I know there have been rumblings but football these days is an industry," Valverde told a news conference ahead of Barca's semi-final match against Atletico Madrid in Jeddah on Thursday.
"The reason why we are here and why we were in Morocco is because the authorities are looking for more sources of income."
The move has been criticised by supporters' groups for excluding the teams' traditional fanbase and from campaign groups such as Amnesty International due to the conservative Muslim kingdom's record on human rights.
Valverde also questioned the merits of opening the competition up to Atletico and Real Madrid, who ended last season empty handed.
Barca and Valencia qualify for the Super Cup as league and cup winners respectively, while Atletico earned one of the new berths due to coming second in La Liga.
The last spot was intended for the cup runners-up but as Barca had already qualified, Real took the vacant place due to their superior cup record over Real Betis, last year's other losing semi-finalists.
"For me it's strange to play the Super Cup with two guest teams. It's clear that these games are exciting for the crowd but from a sporting point of view there is only one league champion and there is only one cup winner," added the coach.
"It was always the first trophy of the season between the league and cup winners, I thought that format was fine but it has been changed. When the competition is over we'll be able to say whether it has gone well or not."
Women watch match without restriction, Rubiales hails Super Cup transformation in Saudi Arabia
The Spanish Super Cup has grown significantly in stature with its move to Saudi Arabia, national soccer federation chief Luis Rubiales said on Wednesday after Real Madrid beat Valencia 3-1 in the opening match of the revamped tournament in Jeddah.
Rubiales angered Spanish soccer traditionalists by expanding the contest between the league champions and Copa del Rey winners to a four-team format, shifting the event from August to January and pledging to take it outside Spain.
He also faced a huge a backlash from campaign groups for signing a three-year deal to play the competition in Saudi Arabia, which is frequently accused of human rights abuses and where women were banned from attending matches until 2018.
"Today the Super Cup has taken a big step forward," Rubiales told reporters after the match at the King Abdullah Sports City stadium, which will also host Thursday's semi-final between Barcelona and Atletico Madrid.
"When we planned the changes last year we didn't know which teams would be playing but by betting on this format we knew we would turn a low-key summer event into a huge competition. Now it's the most important short tournament in the world."
Rubiales has sought to counter the backlash against choosing Saudi Arabia as hosts by arguing that the tournament could open up the conservative Muslim kingdom to the world.
He reiterated that football could be a catalyst for change.
Wednesday's match was the first that women could watch live without restrictions having previously had to sit in a special 'family' section of the stadium.
"Football is not the solution to anything but it can open up doors and I feel very positive today after seeing women and girls in the crowd today," he added.