Manchester United have just been crowned champions of the world after a victorious club world cup campaign. Yet many people will perhaps remain unaware of that fact, simply because of the very low profile that the tournament holds. Very little television coverage of matches and little mention in the press apart from to note that “United have two games in hand after competing in the Club World Cup in Japan”. So why is this tournament, seemingly a pretty big one, considering it has the words ‘World’ and ‘Cup’ in it’s title, roundly ignored by the football world?
Surely a competition that pits the best teams from each of the federations against one another to decide who is the best club in the world? The clubs involved have all one their respective continental competitions, such as the European Champions League and the South American Copa Libertadores. This means that the European giants will come up with their less well-known but equally gifted counterparts from South America, as well as facing the top sides from Asia and Africa and the other confederations. Seeing as the Champions League final is such a showpiece of the footballing calender around the world, why then, are these matches, which could be considered the next rung up the ladder, simply ignored?
Well it is simple really. The fact is, that aside from the European and South American champions, none of the other teams are very good. Of the five tournaments that have been held so far, three have been won by the South American entrant and two by the European representative. Second place as always gone to the other one of these representatives, and the other confederation’s sides have simply made up the numbers, with Japan getting two third place finishing clubs and Egypt one. The representatives from Oceania and the other Americas never having registered in the top three.
Which makes the title of ‘Club World Cup’ a little bit misleading. For me, the idea of a World Cup is to decide the best team in the world that meets the correct criteria. This is a club world cup so it should be the best Club sides in the world that compete for the title. On paper of course, the way that it is currently organised makes sense on paper, with the Champions of the federations being seen as the best in their parts of the world. But in reality, the respective merits of each federation are hugely out of proportion. There is simply far too much quality in the UEFA and CONMEBOL federations to make the competition competitive for the other nations.
If a true Club World Cup were to be played, then surely the top sides in the world should be picked and played off against one another. Selection for this is difficult though, as without a side from each federation, it fails to become a ‘World’ competition and would probably end up being merely Europe vs. South America with the odd dark horse thrown in. So for me, the idea of a ‘Club World Cup’ is really doomed to failure from the start, because of the different standings of the federations that make it up.
FIFA would obviously love the to take off and become a money spinner like the World Cup, the Euro’s and other International tournaments are, as well as the continental competitions like the Champions League, but in the end it simply isn’t going to happen. In a way too, the tournament only serves as a distraction from far more exciting competition.
Man United have been absent from the Premier League to compete in this tournament that nobody cares about. But lots of people care about the Premier League. And now the current champions face the potential disadvantage of having been playing in another continent and being tired from travelling for their return to the competition, as well as having the added fixture pile up of having to fit in their two games in hand. Not only that, but while the Club World Cup took place, the Premier League action that was taking place was probably of a far higher standard than that in the ‘World Cup’. Most teams in the English Premier League would probably have progressed to the final with relative ease, and though some may not have overcome the South Americans in the final, the contest as a whole is surely demeaned by the fact that most European teams could walk into the final of the ‘World’ Cup.
So United have a title that nobody really cares about. Yes, United fans will enjoy boasting about being ‘World Champions’ but if they fail to win the Premier League title or the Champions League, be sure to listen out for those same fans blaming the Club World Cup for disrupting their season and putting unnecessary strain on their players. So maybe it should be scrapped altogether. Let the world focus on the domestic and continental competitions, because it seems that as a whole, they are of greater value than the most successful part from each.
But then, living in New Zealand gives me another perspective on things. The representative from Oceania was Waitakere United. They have to play a play-off against the host nation to get into the tournament proper, and invariably fail, but the fact is, the chance for such a tiny amateur club to be linked with these world giants in anyway is a huge privilege. For Christs sake, I trained with Waitakere when staying with a friend in Auckland a few years back, and now some of those players are in the same tournament as Wayne Rooney and Christiano Ronaldo and other megastars.
The same can arguably said for Adelaide United, who qualified as Asia’s representative (due to the Asain Champion’s League winner being the host) for the tournament. They are a professional side playing in the A-League, and though the league aspires to greatness (check out the commercials if you can find them on youtube), it really doesn’t compare to the major European Leagues. But the fact is, it is a young league, and it is growing and improving all the time. And they have to have something to aspire to. They watch from afar as the world swoons over the Premier League and the other big leagues, and steadily they build towards having a league of that quality for themselves.
It is a long way off granted, but eventually, the day might come. And one day the Club World Cup will come round, and the European club and the South American club will swagger on in and expect an easy road to the final and someday there’ll be an upset. Someday the monopoly will be broken and a team from one of the unfashionable confederations will get to the final or even win it. And then the world might take notice. Then the world may realise that there are other competitions. That football is the world’s game. Yes the English invented it (and deserve much praise for doing so), but the world has taken to it unabashedly and the beauty of it is that it is one of very few things that brings the entire world together.
So while it may not be much of a competition at the moment, the Club World Cup does fulfill an important function. It allows a certain contact between the reality of the world and the crazy world that some football clubs inhabit. It gives the littler teams something to aspire to, to spur them on. And it gives the world a chance to catch a glimpse of ‘the little guys’. But one day the little guys will have grown big and one day they will take the title from the big boys of world football. And then the competition will start to mean something, because once they are no longer the undisputed gods of world football, they will have to fight for it, and then, we will finally have a Club World Cup that is worth getting excited about.