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The Club World Cup Has Lost Its Purpose
The FIFA Club World Cup is no longer the appropriate measure to decide the best club team in the world.
Due to the huge investment in European football in the last decade European clubs (UEFA) have a huge financial advantage over the rest of the world and can buy the best players which gives them a huge advantage over other confederations. Moreover, the format of the tournament is set to favor UEFA and South America (Conmebol) which is unfair to the other teams.
The problem is that the competition has failed to keep up with the changes in the game and has therefore lost its relevance and purpose.
GOAL OF THE TOURNAMENT
The competition was started in 2000 (when it absorbed its predecessor the Intercontinental Cup) and was formed as an annual competition to showcase the best local talent from the various confederations. The idea was that the winners of each continental tournament would compete against each other and the winner would be crowned the best club team in the world. That was the theory, but in practice it turned out to be different.
Previously, the best non-European players led their careers in their home countries and were unknown to foreign audiences. The Club World Cup gave these players the opportunity to showcase their skills on the world stage and there was parity between clubs from Europe and South America at the time.
Conmebol teams won the trophy in the first three years of the competition, but after that European teams dominated and the balance of power shifted to Europe.
DAVID vs. GOLIATH
The beginning of European dominance coincided at the beginning of this century with a huge influx of investment into UEFA football at the club level. The consequence of this is that today there is a large income disparity between European clubs and other confederations.
The winner of the UEFA Champions League earns far more money than the other continental tournaments combined. Real Madrid earned $70.1 million for winning the UEFA Champions League last season. In contrast, San Lorenzo earned $6.1 million for winning the Copa Libertadores (Conmebol), ES Setia earned $1.8 million for winning the African (CAF) Champions League, and in Asia Western Sydney Wanderers earned about the same for winning over Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia over two legs (IAHOO SPORTS – Why is the Club World Cup still struggling for relevance?; Peter Staunton, 12 Dec 2014).
With that kind of money on hand, the best talent to be bought is in Europe’s major leagues, lured by the lucrative contracts these leagues can offer. This means that Europe has at its disposal its talent and everything that the rest of the world has.
The biggest losers in the exodus of football talent to Europe are Brazil and Argentina who are the leading exporters of players, so Europe’s gain is South America’s loss.
Consequently, every other team in the Club World Cup is at a disadvantage compared to the winner of the European Champions League. The tournament has evolved from a rivalry into a David vs. Goliath battle, between European clubs represented by what amounts to a world eleven made up mostly of the best international players and the underdogs, who make up what’s left after the best of their big UEFA clubs have siphoned off the talent.
The reigning champion, Real Madrid, is a combination of some of the most expensive and best international players coming from Spain (Casillas and Sergio Ramos), France (Benzema and Varane), Portugal (Ronaldo and Pepe), Germany (Kroos), Brazil (Marcelo), Colombia (Rodriquez), Wales (Bale) and Mexico (Chicharito). This set of players is hardly representative of the local game in Spain. For three players, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and James Rodriquez, the club paid 367.8 million dollars. Only twelve clubs in the world have a team of players whose market value is worth more than the combined price of these three.
Contrast that with Auckland City FC, one of its competitors in this year’s Club World Cup, who are a team of mere amateurs who have full-time jobs outside of football.
A look at some of the previous champions reveals a heavy-handed component to their teams. In 2010 when Inter Milan (Italy) won the cup, only 5 players in their team of 23 were Italian while the rest were mostly from South America. Even the television commentators failed to follow the changes as they continued to refer to the Inter team as “The Italians”.
In 2011, Barcelona won the cup, and 10 of their 23-man squad were from abroad.
Another big problem with the tournament is that teams from UEFA and South America wait for the semi-finals and start playing even after some of the teams are eliminated. This was done on purpose so that only the biggest clubs would face each other in the final. So far, only teams from those two continents have won, and only one team from outside has made it to the final, namely last year’s surprise finalist TP Mazembe, a Congolese team.
Given the financial advantage enjoyed by UEFA and the bizarre format currently in place, the Club World Cup can hardly be called the fairest competition, and the winner cannot legitimately be called ‘the best in the world’ any more than the winner of the first Intercontinental Cup which was limited to UEFA and CONMEBOL. The tournament has lost its importance and can hardly be praised. A few years ago I won a dance competition, but the other contestants couldn’t dance, so was my victory something to brag about?
Some parity should be restored to the competition. Brazil and Argentina have started raising wages in their local leagues to entice their players to stay at home. That’s a start, but in addition, FIFA needs to limit the number of foreign players available to each team to, say, two and change the format so that all competing teams play the same number of qualifying matches. Failing that, it is pointless to continue the competition in its current form.
Victor A. Dixon
December 23, 2014
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