Barcelona and Real Madrid eye trips to Thailand next year (28/04/2012)

Thailand has become the envy of soccer fans around the world after four-time European champions Barcelona followed bitter rivals Real Madrid in declaring they were eyeing a return to the country next year.

It left local fans with the intriguing possibility of seeing either the Catalans or star-studded Real in the flesh - or possibly even both - come next summer. That prospect would have been unlikely but for ThaiBev's unprecedented move, worth a reported Bt500 million, which brings both Spanish heavyweights under the same sponsorship umbrella for the first time.

In fact, Barcelona vice president Javier Faus revealed during the sponsorship launch at the club's Camp Nou stadium that they had initially planned to visit Thailand this summer, before a last-minute change of mind.

"We thought about a tour in the region this year and were very close to going to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia this summer. However, we eventually decided to stay at home because we have the Euro 2012 Championship during that period this year," said Faus. "All nine of our players who went to the World Cup in South Africa will play in these Euros, while many of our youth team will compete in the London Olympics. So, we decided to postpone this tour potentially for next year."

Sorrakit Latitham, ThaiBev marketing manager, said the company, who signed a three-year contract as regional partner with the Spanish club, would be more than happy to help arrange the trip for a Barcelona team he described as "out of this world".

"Chang beer and Thai people are delighted and honoured to be part of arguably the best team in the world. We're not just a sponsor, we're your partner. And, in line with our chairman's philosophy, we believe in long-term partnership.

"We're very happy to be part of your set-up and we hope that you will accept us as a member of your family too. We hope one day to be able to return the hospitality when you visit our country," said Sorrakit.

Faus, who was in good spirits despite a disastrous week for Barcelona that brought rare back-to-back defeats, in the Spanish League and Champions League, hoped such deals would help fans worldwide realise what makes Barca different from other clubs.

"We are a club with a long history and a special identity. We are owned by our fans, so we're a non-profit organisation in that sense. We're here not to make money, but we want to contribute to our sport, football.

"But, we also want to be a global brand. We don't want to stay just in our town. We want to approach the world, and that's reason why we're so very happy to have a partner like ThaiBev.

"Asia is a huge opportunity for us. We now have more fans in Asia than in Europe. So, we'll focus on the region for the next 10-20 years. We're delighted that Thailand has become the first Asian country to support us. I hope that with the deal our fanbase in Thailand will understand what Barcelona is. At a global level, we hope to contribute value back to society as well."