FC Barcelona, in town for a rematch of the UEFA Champions League final on Saturday against Manchester United at FedEx Field, encountered some trouble Thursday when it tried to hold an impromptu training session on the National Mall.
As team members congregated on the Mall near the White House, video and photos posted by Spanish journalists show a U.S. Park Police officer asking team members, “Who is the leader of this group?” According to players and media reports, the team was told it could not train there.
The edited video then showed the players, dressed in yellow team shirts and tennis shoes, boarding the bus along with staff.
“Security said you couldn’t have a group of more than 10 or 15 there,” Barcelona midfielder Xavi said in Spanish at a news conference. “We wanted to loosen up a little, stretch. . . . Given that the White House was near so it was normal security, nothing more.”
Sgt. David Schlosser, a public information officer for the U.S. Park Police, said he was not aware of the incident and could not immediately comment.
Manchester United disposed of the Major League Soccer all-star team on Wednesday night in a 4-0 victory, but United’s legendary manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, said on Thursday afternoon that he was impressed with how American soccer has grown since the team’s first visit to the United States eight years ago, citing the impact it has had on his own club.
“There’s a big, big upswing towards a better quality of football, a bigger league, a better national team and more focus from television,” Ferguson said. “On the back of that we have seen this incredible reaction from the fan base here now. It’s amazing and it’s getting almost like the Far East, where thousands come outside our hotel every day and all night, and I think that pleases us and it’s a great reason for us to be here with a fan base like that.”
While some European clubs have used tours of the United States as an opportunity to grow their brand, Ferguson said that Manchester United is also gaining from the visit by improving team chemistry.
Several young players and new roster acquisitions have helped the team mesh in advance of its own season, Ferguson said. Though Ferguson said he has been happy with the team’s production on some fronts — Manchester United has scored 18 goals in four games against MLS competition during this tour — he pointed out that the team has been exploited in other areas.
“These games and players getting away together will hopefully bring a better situation for us,” Ferguson said. “We’ve brought some young players and I think the essence of these long tours is for the young players in particular. They can get to know how the older players handle them, they can get to know each other. . . . These tours are fantastic for that team spirit and understanding the personalities of each other.”
The news that Bob Bradley had been fired as U.S. men’s soccer coach broke just minutes before Manchester United’s news conference, and Ferguson was informed of the news before taking the stage.
Ferguson had voiced his support for Bradley in the past, praising the accomplishments of the national team during Bradley’s tenure, and when asked about the surprising move, Ferguson voiced his displeasure.
“Well I was disappointed to hear that because I think he’s done a fine job,” Ferguson said. “He’s always been a diligent, honest worker and I think that the achievement of taking his team to the World Cup finals [tournament] will not be forgotten.”