By Andrew Warshaw
October 24 – China will host the first edition of the expanded Club World Cup in 2021 with FIFA president Gianni Infantino hailing the landmark event as “historic” and describing it as “the first real and true [Club] World Cup”.
The competition, which currently features seven teams but which has become distinctly unloved in its current guise, is being expanded to 24 clubs from June 2021.
Saying it was a “childhood dream come true” after the FIFA Congress unanimously chose China as hosts (no surprise since it was the only candidate), Infantino told reporters: “The new [tournament] will be a competition anyone who loves football is looking forward to.”
Qatar is staging the final two editions of the current format as warm-up events to the 2022 World Cup, the first of which takes places in December.
Infantino has been pushing for approval to beef up the Club World Cup, which effectively replaces the Confederations Cup that has become something of an anachronism, in order to provide a fresh revenue stream the FIFA president needs to fulfil his election pledge to massively increase funding to FIFA’s member nations.
“It will of course allow us to generate significant revenues,” Infantino told a post-Council internationally streamed press conference. “But I want to underline FIFA will have zero out of this. One hundred percent of what we generate will be re-invested in football.”
The new competition will take place in June-July of 2021 with slot allocation and criteria for selecting the teams decided in the coming weeks.
Infantino did not give an exact breakdown but said there would be eight teams from Europe from which all the Champions League and Europa League winners from 2018 to 2021 are likely to qualify. Five or six are expected from South America, one from Oceania, one from host nation China and three each from the other continental confederations.
FIFA only said the qualification process “will be finalised in a consultation process between FIFA and the six confederations.”
Infantino nevertheless has a battle on his hands trying to make sure the top European clubs take part. Last March, the European Club Association (ECA) expressed grave concern about expanding the Club World Cup and its board members signed a letter saying they were “firmly against any potential approval of a revised” tournament, adding that no ECA clubs would take part.
Although the ECA is widely reported as having since relented given the competition will only be staged once every four years and feature only eight European clubs instead of the once-floated 12, many still see the competition as a rival to the Champions League.
Without Europe’s involvement, Infantino’s pet project would be completely devalued but he didn’t address a possible boycott. “This will be big because by definition the best players are at the best clubs,” he said.
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