The competition proper starts today. I’ll kick off by apologising for the lack of activity on here yesterday, but the jet lag hit me like a tidal wave, and I was unable to function for most of the day. Today, however, I’m fully recovered and able to post. Again, I’m at The Olympic Stadium in Tokyo, and later on I’ll be posting up my thoughts on this evening’s semi-final between Club America and SC Internacional. It is, I have to say, the match that I’ve been looking forward to the most. Two open, attacking sides, each with plenty of flair players. It promises to be a most absorbing evening.
With two semi-finals coming up, you might be forgiven for thinking that we’re approaching some sort of climax here in Japan, but the truth of the matter is that things are only just warming up. With the fifth/sixth and third/fourth place play-offs to follow, we’re not even a third of the way through the entire schedule and, in saying this, I’m hitting at the key issue in the selling of this tournament. At the moment, the World Club Cup is suffering from something of an image problem. It’s kind of understandable, given that none of our teams are taking place, but the silence over this competition from the English press is deafening. The fact of the matter is that the World Club Cup is currently neither fish nor fowl. The set up, with six teams – one from each of the FIFA confederations – taking part is unsatisfactory. But I’m not here to be cynical. As I know that Sepp Blatter religiously reads this blog (who else could all those hits from Geneva be coming from?), I’m going to offer some of my patented brilliant advice on how to make the World Club Cup work.
Now, I don’t think that I have to argue that football needs a World Club Championship. It needs it because there is a lot of fantastic football in the world. Europe may think it’s the best, and it’s certainly (in terms of revenue, if nothing else) the biggest, but that’s not really enough, is it? I couldn’t give two damns for these lists which show what clubs bring in the most money each year, and how much their overall turnover is. If that is all that matters, they might as well dispense with the football altogether, open up department stores and we can replace the league tables with the FTSE 100 Share Index. Where it counts is on the pitch. Football is a global game, and it needs a global tournament. We have the World Cup, of course, but most of us put our allegiance to our club team before our allegiance to our national team. Our club team is the bread and butter of our existence. We should have a global club tournament so that we can say with a degree of authority who is the best. we don’t have that at the moment, because the tournament in it’s current format doesn’t carry the required weight. If Barcelona lose against Ahly SC or in the final, it won’t be the end of their world. They’ll return to Catalunya and resume their battle to become the champions of Europe again. The big European clubs have had a fairly dismal record in this competition since it started, so it needs to be changed to bring them onside.
The ideal World Club Cup needs to be played in the summer. There are, it seems, tournaments every summer at the moment, but there are spaces within the football calendar during which it can be played. If we take it as read that the three big international competitions are the World Cup, the European Championships and the Copa America, then there is a spare summer that can be used. The tournament needs to be bigger. sixteen teams should be sufficient – five from Europe, four from South America, two from Central and North America, two from Africa, two from Asia and one from Oceania. The tournament should be rotated around the world, rather than kept in one country. Much as I like Japan (and they are doing an excellent job of hosting this tournament), it makes sense for it to be played at times that are convenient for European television audiences. FIFA may need to take a small loss on it, in order to ensure that the potential earnings from it for the competing teams is high enough for them to sit up and take an interest.
There is no reason why this can’t be a success. The world’s appetite for football is insatiable. To say that the introduction of a World Club Cup is over-saturation is, frankly, hogwash – the sort put forward by big European clubs who want the Champions League to be the be-all-and-end-all, because they’re in prime place at the trough at that tournament. I don’t care about them. I want these so-called “big” European clubs to stand up and be counted. I want them to come to tournaments like this one and perform. Being the best in the world should matter them, because it sure as hell matters to the Brazilians – something which is borne out by the previous results on this tournament.
For now, though, we have what we have, and it’s great. Of course it is. Whether it’s Internacional fans singing themselves hoarse at Schiphol Airport a full five days before their team was due to be involved at all, or Club America’s Rojas using a part of his anatomy to score a goal which most coaches and players use merely to speak out of – and I can’t help but think that the tournament will start to heat up now. The cynics are missing out.