JOHANNESBURG - Mamelodi Sundowns were forced by Barcelona’s hectic schedule to host their friendly against the Spanish giants during the 2017/18 season instead of pre-season like the norm in organising games of this nature.
This was confirmed by the Brazilians’ president Patrice Motsepe on Thursday at the Sandton Convention Centre, right after he announced that the game would go ahead on Wednesday at FNB Stadium with kick-off at 6pm.
The Catalan giants will bring their star players - including Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Andres Iniesta - for this match that will come just before Barcelona wrap their La Liga campaign against Real Sociedad on Sunday next week with the aim of finishing the season unbeaten.
Barcelona have already finalised their pre-season matches, which includes a tour to the United States of America. That’s why Sundowns bent over backwards to have this game, which is part of the Nelson Mandela Centenary, on Wednesday.
The Brazilians asked the Confederation of African Football to move their CAF Champions League clash with Horoya, that was schedule for Tuesday in Conakry, to May 22.
“Barcelona has a tight, tight schedule,” Motsepe said. “Some of the biggest football nations in the world have created partnerships and have reached agreements for Barcelona to visit their countries (in pre-season).
"The programme is very tight for the next few years. We saw the opportunity (to bring Barcelona on Wednesday) because we have been talking for some time. This game is important for South African football. We are humbled as Mamelodi Sundowns to play our part. But this is mainly for the youth. I know how big this is for the youth.
"I remember when I was a young follower of football and I went to the old Orlando Stadium, and watched all the great players. They inspired me. Some of them are alive and they don’t know it was such an honour for me to just touch them. There are many young footballers who we know that watching Messi and Iniesta will inspire them to realise their dreams - whatever dreams those might be.”
Barcelona confirmed their participation in this match on Thursday to put bed the matter that was shrouded in mystery. The Catalan giants initially denied their involvement in this match while there was hectic negotiations behind the scenes due to the timing of this match - on the eve of the World Cup which has an effect on a number of national teams that have Barcelona players in their squad.
“We had no doubt whatsoever that the game will take place,” Motsepe said. “We were told in good faith, go ahead and make the announcement. But what we didn’t recognise, even though the authorisation came from Barcelona, was that this is the year of the World Cup.
"There are so many stakeholders involved, including the national teams of the different countries. The main concern from those different national teams is that their players who have been a part of the most competitive league in the world have to rest so that fatigue isn’t an issue at the World Cup.
"If it was any other year, it would have been much, much easier. Much, much easier in a sense even though Barcelona are wanted in America, China and all over the world.
"If we didn’t bring them now, we would have to wait for many, many years. We didn’t want to bring any team, nje. South Africans are very ambitious people and we have to try and bring the very best.”