Barcelona tour US minus their tired South American stars

Lionel Messi, accompanied by Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba, laying the first stone at a future African Cup of Nations venue in Port-Gentil on Saturday. He is not in the United States for Barcelona's pre-season tour, having been given an extended
Lionel Messi, accompanied by Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba, laying the first stone at a future African Cup of Nations venue in Port-Gentil on Saturday. He is not in the United States for Barcelona's pre-season tour, having been given an extended break.PHOTO: REUTERS

LOS ANGELES • The logistics of Barcelona's North American football tour are tough enough and coach Luis Enrique made no apologies for letting his 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 today.

Enrique and captain Andres Iniesta were fresh off the bus from the airport when they met the media, the team having been cheered upon arrival at their hotel by a gaggle of fans.

Asked if he owed those fans a chance to see the likes of Messi and Brazilian Neymar, Enrique said his first duty was to get these 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 the coach, who has also excused goalkeeper Claudio Bravo, midfielder Javier Mascherano and full-back Dani Alvez from the tour after they competed in the Copa America.

"The bottom line is: These players need to rest."

The European champions will travel north to play Manchester United at the home of the National Football League's San Francisco 49ers on Saturday.

They complete their United States swing against English champions Chelsea in suburban Washington DC next Tuesday.

They will play Fiorentina in Florence on Aug 2 as part of the same International Champions Cup exhibition tournament.

"As a trainer, the truth is that I would rather not do tours," admitted Enrique who, like many other managers, finds that 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 change of time zones can have repercussions.

"And you can have fewer trainings and that can affect the team negatively."

The tour includes potentially distracting sideshows such as meetings with National Basketball Association superstar Kobe Bryant as well as with members of the NBA champions Golden State Warriors, but 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." AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2015, with the headline 'Barcelona tour US minus their tired South American stars'. Print Edition | Subscribe