So let me guess, you’re sitting on the edge of your seat, fidgeting nervously as you await the final stages of the FIFA Club World Cup (formerly known as the FIFA World Club Championship – World Cup has a better spin to it, don’t you think?) to explode onto your screens and take you on a breathless journey of world class football, performed by the elite stars of the game, with nail-biting contests and, perhaps, even a penalty shoot-out to get you hiding behind your chair, barely able to watch?
No? Now why does that not surprise me!
Some of you maybe weren’t even aware the competition was on this week? But you can be forgiven for that oversight.
Let me fill you in on the detail. Firstly, the competition includes 7 teams (yes, I agree, a strange number for a knock-out competition!) and they are as follows:
Manchester United (England; Europe/UEFA)
LDU Quito (Ecuador; South America/CONMEBOL)
Pachuca (Mexico; CONCACAF)
Waitakere United (New Zealand; Oceania)
Gamba Osaka (Japan; Asia/AFC)
Adelaide United (Australia; Asia/AFC)
Al Ahly (Egypt; Africa/CAF).
For those of you who did not say “who?” at least once….respect! The rest of you are probably frantically entering searches into Google or have moved onto the next article. No offence taken! To explain the 7 team format this year, it is because the J-League Champions get to participate as the competition is held in Japan but this year the J-League champions are also the Asian champions, so Adelaide Utd., beaten finalists in the Asian Champions League and a team that would struggle to make an impression in English League 1, are included. An idea dreamed-up, no doubt, by Mr. Blatter after too many cognacs one night in a massage parlour somewhere in downtown Tokyo!
So what exactly is this competition all about? Well, in my view, for the European Champions it’s about a meaningless competition that requires them to travel halfway around the world in mid-season for 2 more games in an already over-congested fixture program which leads only to a further pile-up of matches later in the season. In short, it’s an imposed handicap on your chances of repeating the CL success of last season and winning or retaining your national league title.
Is it not enough that you are required to play a meaningless showcase earlier in the season (the European Super Cup) which no genuine fan counts on their club’s CV?
And to further denigrate the competition FIFA have come-up with a truly farcical format.
The Oceania qualifiers from New Zealand were eliminated on December 11th by Adelaide Utd., before the other teams had even booked their flights. Adelaide Utd. were beaten by Gamba Osaka on Sunday and now have the ‘motivational’ task of playing Al Ahly of Egypt (beaten by Pachuca of Mexico on Saturday last) in the highly billed 5th place play-off on Thursday 18th (miss it at your peril!). The European and South American qualifiers don’t enter the competition until the semi-final stages. Lest I lose myself in the confusion you can get a full run-down on the fixtures and format here (FIFA World Club Championship).
Now I know I’ve been cynical to this point but am I over-stretching myself to suggest that whoever in FIFA (I’ll give Blatter a break for now) came up with this format was extremely distracted at the time? I watched the Adelaide Utd. V Gamba Osaka game on Sunday and both teams were highly motivated. Unfortunately, as the commentators reminded me often, the motivation was not born out of any great expectation of winning the competition but by the ‘prize’ of meeting Manchester United in the semi’s. Something to tell the grand kids about, as it were.
Sir Alex Ferguson will almost certainly give a number of reserves an outing while mixing in some first team players so as not to appear politically incorrect. If it were me I would play the youth team and hold two fingers firmly up to FIFA.
Traditionally, the European Champions don’t take this competition very seriously. Not so the South Americans. Apparently they see it as highly prestigious, although their representatives this year are somewhat dubious. For an excellent insight into this aspect read Tim Vickery’s informative column on the subject (Tim Vickery view). Yes, that’s the same Tim who was voted 2nd in the Best Media Blogger 2008 category in the Soccerlens’ Awards just released (Soccerlens Awards 2008).
But FIFA should not be put in the dock like this without the opportunity for a defence. So let me see if I can find one.
I should refer to FIFA’s mission statement which reads as follows:
‘Develop the game, touch the world, build a better future’.
Very broad you will agree, but that is the nature of mission statements. Of course it breaks down to a greater level of detail which, if you’re interested, you can find here (Fifa Mission). So which of the boxes does the World Club Championship tick in supporting FIFA’s objectives? Let’s take a look.
1. Develop the game: By pairing such an eclectic selection of teams from such a variety of leagues, with such disparate standards in such a brief competition, it takes a huge stretch of the imagination to suggest that this Competition ticks this box. It doesn’t!
2. Touch the world: Well considering many fans are not even aware the competition is on, the lack of coverage in the media, the minimal exposure on TV (ruthless as always, they only take things that drive the ratings), and the general apathy from the greater football supporting community (peruse the websites and BLOGS to confirm this) you can only conclude that this box also fails to get a tick. Not surprisingly, Toyota are the main sponsors, the competition being in Japan, but although no detail is available you can be fairly sure that they got the rights on the back of a couple of shiny new Corollas for the FIFA officials grand-children and the guarantee of 3 S’s a plenty for the visiting FIFA dignitaries (that’s saki, sushi and ….er…I can’t think of the 3rd one!).
3. Build a better future: Unless the Japanese authorities are building a waterfront mansion on a Caribbean island for one (or more) of the FIFA officials I honestly don’t see the relevance of this (in the context of this competition that is).
FIFA will argue that it gives the game more exposure in the biggest developing geography in the world (Asia) and thus promotes the game in a positive way. What they need to understand is that the Asians are already very knowledgeable about their football and will be as apathetic towards this charade as the rest of us. It is interesting to note that while the Premier League proposal to play games abroad, not least in Asia, has been public enemy number one with FIFA this year (something that would undoubtedly grab the imagination of the fans in the cities where it played out), they nevertheless persist with a competition that has nothing like the same appeal while espousing that it achieves a similar objective.
Now I must put on record at this point that I am hugely in favour of innovation and new ideas. How else can we ever progress and improve? To be negative towards every new idea is to suppress the enthusiasm of those who have the brilliance to invent. Things that you may not consider favourable are often worth a chance if others believe in the concept. All of which leads me to the history of this competition.
You will no doubt remember Manchester United being dragged kicking and screaming into the piece in 2000 when threats from FIFA regarding future World Cup bids for England, the involvement of the UK Sports Minister and, ultimately, the compromise of Utd. opting out of that years FA Cup, preceded a completely lame competition in Brazil. Utd. were backed into a corner and were slated in the media for the FA Cup sacrilege. Since then the competition has evolved in format and stumbled like a punch drunk boxer through the years.
As a card carrying football follower who considers that little moves in the genre without my knowledge I am left wondering why I can’t recall the results of this competition in the interim. Is it because the media ignores it? Why did I even have to look-up the Liverpool outcome 3 years ago (they lost in the final). As an avid PL supporter if I can’t remember that, am I likely to recall the years when no English team was involved? The point is that there is a difference between giving new ideas a go and flogging a dead horse.
This competition is no more than an excuse for Blatter to continue his showboating around the world, planting his ample backside on the best seat in the stadium while staying at the most luxurious 5* star hotel in town, dining at the local gourmet restaurants and pontificating at several press conferences, in between being bowed and pandered to by the ‘minions’ of the Japanese football hierarchy.
As the headline suggests, this competition needs to be put out of its misery and, given the opportunity, I’d gladly be the one found holding the smoking gun.