JEDDAH • Real Madrid, Zinedine Zidane and the Spanish Football Federation were the biggest winners as the revamped Spanish Super Cup in Saudi Arabia concluded on Sunday night, but it was the travelling fans who got the short end of the stick.
Traditionalists have been crying foul since the competition - which in the past pitted the La Liga champions against the King's Cup winners - was expanded to a four-team format this season and moved from its usual August slot.
While Spanish football federation chief Luis Rubiales declared he was "very happy" with how his brainchild had panned out, and the 59,053-strong crowd at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium seeming to back his assertion, the overall picture tells a different story.
The Super Cup will be staged in the Gulf kingdom for two more seasons, after his federation penned a three-year deal worth €40 million (S$60 million) annually. Half of that sum went to this year's participating clubs Real, Atletico Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona.
The eye-watering sums, however, do not trickle down to the fans, most of whom are unwilling or unable to fork out the money needed to travel to Saudi Arabia, whose government only last year began issuing tourist visas.
According to the Guardian, the four clubs sold less than 10 per cent of their ticket allocations, with the rest given away to locals.
Spanish daily AS also said less than 200 Real fans made the journey from Spain as the £2,000 (S$3,500) costs were prohibitive.
The decision to stage the Cup in Saudi Arabia has also drawn flak from not just supporters, but La Liga, as it is where beoutQ, a pirate pay TV broadcaster, originates as well as human rights groups.
The kingdom has been accused of trying to "sports wash" its questionable image through the hosting of big sporting events, including the Dakar Rally, which started on Jan 5, and last month's boxing heavyweight title fight between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr.
Rubiales has, however, defended their cash grab, saying: "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 (Spain's third and four divisions).
"Of course, money is important, who can deny that? Money is very important, but the money will go where it is needed."
Still the criticism will not matter one jot to Real after they beat Atletico 4-1 in a penalty shoot-out following a goal-less draw after extra time in a tense Cup final.
The crucial moment in the game came when Federico Valverde was sent off after deliberately fouling Alvaro Morata in the 115th minute to halt the Atletico striker's clear run on goal.
Titles won by Zinedine Zidane in nine finals as Real Madrid coach, including two against Atletico Madrid (Champions League in 2016 and this year's Spanish Super Cup).
Real were able to hold on and captain Sergio Ramos sent Jan Oblak the wrong way when converting the decisive fourth spot kick, sealing their first trophy of the season and their 11th Cup.
The shoot-out victory also preserved Zidane's flawless record in finals as a coach, with the Frenchman winning all nine showpieces he has reached at Real's helm.
On his boss and Valverde's sacrifice for the team, Ramos said: "Zizou's results speak for themselves. I'm a defender of Zizou. He deserves the respect of the dressing room and Real fans.
"We have the experience you need in the dramatic moments.
"Fede is a fantastic footballer and we would have done the same thing in his position."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS