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Inside Gerard Pique’s Kings League, with 40-minute games, gold cards and Aguero in a clown mask

“A brand new approach of understanding soccer.” So runs the tagline of the Kings League, the seven-a-side soccer competitors launched on New Yr’s Day this 12 months by former Barcelona and Spain defender Gerard Pique.

In its first month, the Barcelona-based league, the newest enterprise by Pique’s Kosmos group, has generated appreciable intrigue with gimmicks comparable to a masked participant known as Enigma and one other in a clown costume named the Joker, who turned out to be Sergio Agüero.

You are reading: Inside Gerard Pique’s Kings League, with 40-minute games, gold cards and Aguero in a clown mask

Although staged on Sundays in a pavilion in entrance of not more than 300 invited friends and media, the league has drawn a big on-line viewers with matchday viewing figures upwards of 1 million on Twitch, TikTok and YouTube. Certainly a peak of 1.37m viewers noticed Agüero take away his clown masks earlier than taking part in for Kunisports, the membership of which he’s president.

Surveying its affect, Ricardo López, the one-time Manchester United reserve goalkeeper now taking part in within the competitors, says: “It’s a combine between video video games and actual soccer. It’s thrilling.”

Ricardo, 51, appeared within the Premier League as soon as for United again in 2003 – saving a penalty from Blackburn Rovers’ David Dunn – however, as he admits, his two teenaged sons are extra excited by their dad’s involvement in a contest focused at a youthful era accustomed to following sport on-line.

“With my children it’s troublesome watching soccer,” he tells i. “Typically for them, it’s a bit of bit boring. The Kings League is one thing completely different with these new guidelines.”

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The foundations in query embrace a gold card for every coach permitting him to deploy a ‘secret weapon’ – comparable to calling for a two-minute spell during which any objective scored by his workforce counts double. For the final spherical of video games, another choice for coaches was to deploy Piqué himself.

Matches final 40 minutes and, if drawn, conclude with a penalty shoot-out during which gamers carry the ball ahead from midway quite than shoot from the spot.

Whereas every squad has 10 gamers picked by way of a December draft and incomes 75 euros per week, additionally they name on ex-pros comparable to Joan Capdevila, a member of Spain’s 2010 World Cup-winning squad, as their eleventh man.

But elementary to the curiosity is the involvement as membership presidents of well-known names like Agüero and Iker Casillas together with influencers from the Spanish-speaking world – together with Ibai Llanos, Spain’s most well-known streamer.

“The person expertise attracts in folks and raises consciousness of the league and as soon as they have folks into watching it, they in all probability have a greater likelihood of staying round,” explains Josh Hershman, managing director of Ten Toes media company.

BARCELONA, SPAIN - JANUARY 15: Gerard Piqu??, President of the Kings League, comments on the match live during the third day of the Kings League at Cupra Arena on January 15, 2023 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Cesc Maymo/Getty Images)
The Kings League is one in every of Gerard Pique’s many post-playing profession ventures (Photograph: Getty)

In a four-year affiliation with the Worldwide Tennis Federation that ended this month, Pique’s Kosmos group modified the format of the Davis Cup into an end-of-season World Cup-style occasion. Now he’s toying with soccer’s format – and Hershman can see its enchantment.

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“I’m not stunned one thing that has a game-show really feel to it’s catching the eye of in all probability a youthful era,” he says. “Something the place there’s innovation is at all times going to attract folks’s curiosity. Should you have a look at cricket and the introduction of T20, for instance, you had a shorter model with enjoyable and fireworks that individuals can take pleasure in and devour no matter being a die-hard lover of the sport or a workforce.

“We dwell in a world now the place the eye financial system, as folks name it, is dwindling,” he provides.

“With social media now we’re seeing a ‘bite-sized’ consumption of sport. Folks wish to see the nice transfer that has 34 passes in a single clip. They wish to see the objective in 30 seconds. In lots of circumstances they don’t wish to sit and watch an entire recreation.”

Actual Madrid’s Florentino Pérez famously asserted that “younger individuals are now not excited by soccer”. But sufficient of them are following the Kings League and Piqué is now promoting tickets for a ‘last 4’ occasion which will probably be staged at Camp Nou on 26 March, marking the tip of the primary half of the season. He’s additionally getting ready the launch in Might of a ladies’s Queens League.

As for Ricardo, he’s simply protecting an eye fixed out for any rule modifications forward of subsequent weekend’s motion. He explains: “One Saturday I used to be with my son having dinner and he requested me, ‘Dad have you learnt the brand new rule for Sunday?’. Shortly I put it into my workforce’s WhatsApp group as no person knew it!”

These parts of jeopardy are one other a part of the enchantment and beg the query whether or not soccer be taught may from this. “It’s troublesome as a result of soccer may be very conventional,” he displays, “however possibly it’s a great lesson to take, to do one thing completely different.”


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