No I thought not.
It’s taken seriously in South America, where it feels like a Champions League final to them, a chance for the Copa Libertadores winners to topple the best from Europe.
And it occasionally makes its mark elsewhere. I still remember waking to the news that Zico’s Flamengo had humiliated Liverpool 3-0 in the annual Intercontinental game in Tokyo in 1981. I thought my team were indestructible before that. As a nine year-old devotee of the Reds it managed to overshadow my game of Sunday football!
But even then there was a feeling that the tournament wasn’t the be and end all. That it was more of an inconvenience. A break from the real business. Which came at 3 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon in the league.
I covered one of these games in Japan 1999. But it was far from the main reason I was in Japan, as they were preparing for the big one – the World Cup. Once again the game didn’t seem to cause a proper stir around the globe. I would challenge Manchester United fans to tell me who scored the winner, or anyone to tell me who was man of the match. Bearing in mind this was treble winners playing top Brazilian side Palmeiras, so it should have been a big deal. 1-0, Roy Keane, with Mark Bosnich producing the best goalkeeping performance I’ve seen. Maybe he laid off the pies that day Fergie.
Next year came one of the most disgraceful episodes in club football history. Manchester United decided to withdraw from the world’s best domestic Cup competition, the FA Cup, to play in the new 8-team Club World Cup in Brazil and try and help England’s 2006 World Cup bid.
An ill-conceived bid that ended in miserable failure, as did United’s campaign in Brazil. The 3-0 defeat against Vasco Di Gama is a You Tube treat for the club’s many detractors. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJSGyV4zreQ&feature=youtube_gdata_player
One innovative Liverpool fan tried (but failed) to get a batch of Vasco shirts for the next home match at Anfield!
The Intercontinental Cup was actually played every year until 2004. Then the competition was properly relaunched as the Club World Cup relaunched in Japan 2005 with six teams and a format that allows the bigger clubs later entry. In other words it still ended up as Europe v South America The Brazilian domination continuing with wins for Sao Paolo then Internacional the year after. By now seven clubs were involved – six continental champions from a club from host nation.
For the next five years the winners of the tournament were from Europe; Milan, Inter Milan, Barcelona and Manchester United twice. In 2009 and 2010 the tournament was played in the United Arab Emirates rather than Japan, reflecting the large foothold the Middle East was establishing in the hosting of sports events.
I wish the excellent achievement of Congolese club Mazembe of reaching the 2010 final was better remembered but that’s the problem when a club needs to win only two games to progress. Fairytales need time to unfold. .
But rather than the trophy being the culmination of a fine achievement, the tournament victory always seems to be about something else. For Inter Milan for instance, the justification of and from Rafa Benitez. ‘I won the Club World Cup’ was his mantra. ‘How hard is it to do that exactly?’ the retort from the Alex Fergusons of this world (yes him again).
For Barcelona in 2011 it was about the completion of an unprecedented and extraordinary six trophy haul. Note the distinction. It’s not the winning of the actual Club World Cup that mattered in it’s own right, but the extension of their overall trophy-winning superiority.
And yet perhaps the tournament felt more relevant than ever in the year 2011. There was wide interest in Barcelona’s incredible year – and when they beat a Santos team featuring Neymar 4-0 this was a proper crowning of world champions. No room for dispute that Barca were the best on the planet. It was a quite brilliant performance against Santos, and the mere presence of Pele’s old club helped lift the occasion and made it feel grand.
Within 12 months that boost to interest levels dipped again as Chelsea, with their new fan base beyond London, lost tamely to Corinthians in the final. It mattered a great deal to fans of the Brazilian club, the aim is for it to have mattered more to Chelsea fans and neutrals.
This 2013 tournament has its fair share of angles so surely we should all be talking about it? Would Morocco work as hosts? Could Lippi take Ghanzou Everglade to new horizons? Could Ronaldinho take Atletico Mineiro all the way in the twilight of his memorable career? And are Bayern actually as good as they appear to be.
They play Moroccan team Raja Casablanca in the final. Fantastic to see an African club make it and will be good if they can actually give Bayern a decent game. It won’t be easy. And again, their achievement in reaching the final this year is not quite getting the coverage it deserves everywhere because narrative isn’t being followed by everyone. This Cup is not yet touching the lives of football fans the way it could and should.
The coverage has been hit and miss. With a lot of to miss. I’m reliably informed from Morocco that some of the organisation has left plenty to be desired. There has been sniping about the ease of Bayern’s progress to the final (as if they can do anything other than turn up and beat who’s in front of them).
As per usual the early games underwhelmed. And all the while there has been thrilling Champions League and English Premier League action to keep football fans agog. When the World Club Cup achieve this? Well in the spirit of solutions being more welcome that sniping here’s an idea.
Play the FIFA World Club Cup every two years, not annually. In June in Europe, or for an extended period in December if hosted by a country with a hot climate.
Extend it to 16 clubs:
Four from Europe (winners and runners-up of Champions Lge x 2 years)
Four from South America (see above)
Two from Asia (Champions League winners x 2 years)
Two Africa (see above)
Two Concacaf (see above)
One Oceania (Champions League winners after play-off)
One host nation.
These allocations subject to change if football evolves as I hope, and Asia and African teams, amongst others, become stronger. If the same team wins for two years beaten teams steps up after a play-off
Four groups of 4, quarter-finalists, semis, final, simple. 24 games over three weeks maximum. Get more than one European nation at each other’s throats and you have a competition. Ditto South American clubs. This will give the smaller clubs three games to establish themselves. Not a one-off mediocre clash. And the downsides? Clubs missing a few domestic weeks. Tough.
The impact of UEFA Champions League being potentially lessened. Tough.
This is a world game. Michel Platini spoke with honour about the World Cup being the most important thing. So why has world club competition, at a time when club football is stronger then ever, got a lid on it.
As someone who feels the football world shouldn’t always revolve around Europe, in this instance the competition needs Europe. So here’s the major launch pad of my ‘madcap’ idea. Whether in the year 2015 or 2017 the first 16-team tournament has to be, yes, in Europe.
If four major European teams were going at it for a world crown in June 2015 amongst the rest of the world’s elite would it kickstart proper interest, and I mean real interest, in the tournament throughout Europe. Not to mention potentially hundreds of millions of followers of these teams throughout Asia particularly. 2013 representatives Bayern may be excelling on and off the pitch, but on that continent they are no Manchester United, no Real Madrid.
Come on how about we give a World Club Cup some proper love? Then let’s sort out the first hosts – which is usually a straightforward issue. Isn’t it?!
Lee Wellings is the Sports Correspondent for Al Jazeera English based in London. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Lee on twitter @LeeW_Sport