Has it been a year already? For those of you that were previously unaware of this, last year I was at the FIFA World Cup in Japan, bringing you daily reports of the goings on at this tournament, and I returned to the UK somewhat enamoured with it all. Now, I know that popular opinion in Europe is that the World Club Cup ranks in peoples affections somewhere between the Johnstones Paint Trophy and the FA Vase, but this evening I’m going to state the case for defence. As I will go on to explain in greater detail later on, there are plenty of things that are wrong with the World Club Cup and, in order to give the competition some of the respectability that one somewhat feels that FIFA try rather too hard to give it, certain major changes it is structure are necessary, rather than merely desired. However, there is plenty look forward to in this tournament – almost certainly more so than you might think. Here are five reasons why you too should learn to love the runt of FIFA’s litter.
1. A Grand Old History – The current tournament format of the World Club Cup is only a few years old, but it is the spiritual heir to the Intercontinental Cup, which was for a while the most violent tournament on earth. The creation of the Intercontinental Cup was the inevitable next step after the creation of the European Cup and the Copa Libertadores in the mid-to-late 1950s. It was a pretty simple format – the champions of Europe against the champions of South America – but how to stage a match to decide the “best team in the world” has been a problem since the very start of the tournament. Initially it was played in a bizarre system whereby if each teams won a match each, a third match would be played at the venue of the team that had won been at home in the second leg. Although obviously done for logistical reasons, it gave a ridiculously disproportionate advantage to the team drawn at home in the second leg. In 1969 it was changed to a more conventional “home & away” two-legged affair before becoming a one-off match played in Tokyo every year in 1980. The first “tournament”, held in Brazil in 2000, was a fudged disaster (best known for causing the withdrawal of Manchester United from the FA Cup), and it was scrapped the following year after the collapse of FIFA’s major media partner. Its return in 2005 saw Sao Paolo beat Liverpool at the end of the peculiar format that the competition now takes.
2. The Feint Possibility Of Sickening Violence – In this day and age, football is a little bit, well, homogenised. All players seem to 5’11 and twelve and a half stone. One tournament won’t change that evolutionary process, but the Intercontinental Cup became, in the 1960s, a byword for the most extreme violence that has ever been seen on a football pitch. In 1967, six players were sent off in the play-off match between Racing Club and Celtic and, over the next three years, another Argentinian Club, Estudiantes De La Plata kicked lumps out European teams (in 1968, for example, George Best was sent off for Manchester United after his temper snapped) and after the treatment that they received in 1970, Feyenoord refused to return the following year, leaving UEFA having to send Panathinaikos instead. Things have calmed down a lot in recent years, but I wouldn’t rule out of some sort of flare-up at some point or other.
3. The Battle-Lines Are Being Drawn – I’ve mentioned before on here that there is a power play going on behind the scenes in British, European and world football, and it makes the internecine squabbling between the pre-Premier League Football League and the FA look like so much handbag-slapping. The big clubs are lining up against the authorities and, despite the recent out-flanking of G14 by UEFA, they’ll be back. There’s too much at stake, so far as they’re concerned. The big European clubs don’t much like the World Club Cup. They think that it’s an irritation in the middle of their domestic seasons. It should, therefore, be encouraged by all of the rest of us. They always get their own way. In England, only four teams can conceivably win the Premier League. In Europe, only about six or seven teams can realistically win the Champions League. That’s the way they like it. The World Club Cup throws a spanner in their works. FIFA should be applauded for doing anything that pisses off the likes of Milan, Barcelona or Manchester United. If you think that the World Club Cup is pointless, might I suggest that you take a look back at the two month long Champions League group stages, if you want to see what the word “worthless” means.
4. You Will See Teams Playing Each Other That Don’t Usually Play Each Other – This is something of a novelty these days, even though our younger readers may be surprised by it, but there was a time when the outside world was something of a mystery. I remember my fascination with Flamengo after they played Liverpool in Tokyo in 1981. They were exotic to the point of other-worldliness and, in spite of the best efforts of the digital age, they remain so now. Only a few experts could name more than a handful of this year’s Boca Juniors team. The point is this – the World Club Cup may be badly scheduled and badly timed, but how often will you get to see and African or South American club side play a European side in a competitive match? Never, that’s when. There are very few tournaments that offer the chance to see teams that will never otherwise play each other competitively.
5. The Europeans Never Seem To Win – Since it became a tournament, the Europeans have singularly failed to do anything in this competition. The 2000 tournament ended in an all-Brazilian affair between Corinthians and Vasco da Gama. In 2005, Sao Paolo beat Liverpool in Tokyo. Last year, Barcelona couldn’t have had it any easier. They had (as all of the European entrants have had since 2005) a bye to the semi-final, where they beat an apathetic-looking Club America 4-0. In the final, they only had to beat the Brazilians Internacional, who had been booed off the pitch by their own supporters after beating the Egyptian giants Al-Ahly 2-1 in the semi-final. Internacional sat back and soaked up everything that the Catalan giants could throw at them, and hit them with a sucker punch twelve minutes from time. Barca skulked off home muttering about “the Champions League being more important anyway”. Milan have got it much more difficult against Boca Juniors this year, and anything that punctures the ego of the “Big Europeans” has got to be good, hasn’t it?
More on this later this evening, starting with almost certainly more than you could ever need to know about Sepahan of Iran and Waitakere United of New Zealand.