A few weeks ago, as the Premier League season drew to a close and Everton lost out in the FA Cup Final to Chelsea, I lamented the onset of a long summer with no major tournament, which cursed us to a few long months with no football to savour. I made that remark in full knowledge of the fact that the Confederations Cup was to be played this summer, and I stand by it. But why is a tournament that will feature Spain, Brazil and Italy not deemed a ‘major’ international tournament to the majority of football fans?
Especially given the fact that as a rule, the nations involved, even the big ones, tend to send something resembling their strongest squad to the competition. This year’s tournament will see the likes of Xavi, Torres, Kaka, Robinho, Pirlo and Buffon gracing South African pitches. And yet, no one really seems that bothered. It certainly appears to be one of footballs little anomalies, that while we’re all sat around in the sun complaining that it’s too hot and there’s no football, there are actually some world class players doing battle.
So why aren’t we watching?
In many ways, I see the Confederations Cup as being a bit like England’s Community Shield. It pits the winners of more important competitions against one another to determine an ‘ultimate’ champion, and no one really cares what happens. Yeah sure, people will watch the games on TV and if your club wins then you’ll claim it boastingly amongst the trophy haul for that season (see Man Utd’s ‘quadrouple’ last season), but if your club loses you are perfectly within your rights to shrug it off and say “who gives a fuck, it’s just the community shield”.
And yet, can we really say that it’s just the Confederations Cup? I don’t think we can, and I think comparisons to the Community Shield work on the surface, but are actually inaccurate. See, the Community Shield takes two sides who have worked really hard over a long competition to win either the Premier League or the FA Cup and pits them one against the other in a one off game. As does the European Super Cup. And no one really cares, because it’s just one game.
On the day, anything can happen. It doesn’t really matter who wins one match, one day, once. Any scientist worth their salt will tell you that true accuracy of results comes with repeats. You have to prove your findings by running an experiment numerous times and hoping the results are consistent. So the Community Shield and the Super Cup mean nothing. Sure, someone takes home a trophy, but it doesn’t make them better than the other team. It just means they played better on the day, which means that it doesn’t mean much at all.
However, the Confederations Cup doesn’t work like that. It is actually a tournament. A proper, longish tournament with rounds. It even has two groups and then a knockout phase. Which means that those two teams that reach the final will pretty much have earned the right to be there, and the victor will have proved themselves worthy of being called the best side involved in the competition. It’s not just a one off, they have to play well over the course of the tournament to win it, and so it should mean something shouldn’t it?
And given that the Confederations Cup is a tournament that pits the winner of each continental competition against one another (plus the World Champions and – just to lower the prestige a little – the hosts), surely what it means to win the Confederations Cup is that you are the best footballing nation in the world? Doesn’t it? The best of Europe, Africa, both Americas, Asia, Oceania and the World (and the hosts) are shaken up and, at the end of the tournament, we find out who are the ultimate champions of the world… don’t we?
As it happens, we erm… don’t. Because we already have a tournament that does that, which takes place in the same country but a year later. Indeed, the Confederations Cup is really just a fancy way of saying “the warm up for the World Cup”. Because at the end of the day, it’s more about testing out the suitability of the host nation for the World Cup than finding out who the best team in the competition is.
And ultimately, that is why no one cares about the Confederations Cup. Because what it should decide is the World Champions. But we already have a better tournament that does that, and so the ultimate function of the tournament is undermined and rendered defunct. The Confederations Cup serves no purpose, it is essentially meaningless and so it is understandably difficult to get excited about for us fans. So what if our country wins the Confederations Cup? That doesn’t mean anything.
Ultimately, all the fans of a country care about is winning firstly the World Cup and secondly, their continental competition. Winning those sorts of competitions gives you an immense feeling of pride, and the knowledge that your country has proved itself to be dominant in the world/it’s region. And though technically the Confederations Cup should give your nation the status as the ‘best of the best’, it really doesn’t. Victory in it comes with pretty much no bragging rights whatsoever.
And really, if you can’t brag about it, what’s the point in winning? After all, football is all about competition. It’s why we get so passionate about it, and why we pledge our support to one team – so that if our team wins, we can feel superior to other people, our friends, workmates and rivals. Of course we love to watch the game too, we appreciate the skill and the talent of the players and genuinely enjoy watching the game played well. But what really sets football apart is the genuine emotional involvement we feel. The ecstasy of victory and the despair of defeat.
And at the end of the day, winning the Confederations Cup provides no ecstasy. Losing it provides no despair. No managers will be fined for gleefully smoking expensive cigars in the locker room. The winner of this year’s tournament will not return home to a hero’s welcome, nor will they parade around their capital city on an open top bus with liberal amounts of champagne. Instead, they will simply return home to heightened expectations – having shown that success in South Africa is possible, they will simply be under even greater pressure when they return there a year later.
So while there will be some top players turning out in South Africa over the next couple of weeks, and some of the best nations in the world will go toe to toe, the Confederations Cup is not a major tournament. It won’t give us our fix of Summer football as other international tournaments do, simply because it is meaningless. The result counts for nothing, and watching world class players and world class teams play with nothing at stake is pretty much akin to watching them train. Yeah, they’ll be some good football, but with nothing resting on it… it just doesn’t matter.
I’ll probably still watch it though.