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The Forgotten Cup(s): The FIFA Club World Cup

Friday 10th June 2016
International football's biggest prize is unquestionably the World Cup. Club football's equivalent is the FIFA Club World Cup, but it's unusually not talked about and largely forgotten from football fans minds. Why is that? Surely a competition between the world's best clubs should enthral football fans across the globe…

The FIFA Club World cup's first incarnation took place in 2000; although wasn't considered a success and was canned before the 2001 edition took place. The format was then revised and was rebooted in 2005. Thoughts of the world's best teams playing against each other for the club equivalent of the Jules Rimet come to mind, surely what a spectacle. Although in actual fact the tournament is a bit of non-event. The competition is populated by seven teams in a knock-out based system. Six of the teams qualify by winning their respective confederations Champions League competition. The seventh team come from the host country and qualify by winning their domestic league. So as well as winning the UEFA Champions League a few weeks back, Real Madrid also qualified for the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan next season. Yet BT Sport didn't do much to tell you that.
The disappointment stems from the unbalanced system which favours the bigger clubs. Granted that the competition takes place in the middle of most of the participant's domestic league seasons and the seven team system will pose numerical problems, but the present method certainly doesn't quell them. The current system sees the teams enter a knockout tournament at different stages based on their confederation's worldly status. This sees the European Champions league winners enter at the semi-final, whether as the winners of the OFC winners enter at the first round. You can see the injustice here. The OFC team have to win more matches to win the same trophy. Take the 2015 edition of the tournament, for example, Auckland City would have had to play in and win four games to lift the trophy. Barcelona however, entering at the semi-final only have to participate and succeed in two games, for example, the same honour. Surely the Catalonian team didn't need any more of an advantage than they have by default. This system doesn't put everyone on a level playing field and only promotes European football further.

The South Americans also benefit from this arrangement, as they too enter the semi-final phase allowing them to easily accumulate silverware too. No team from outside of UEFA or CONMEBOL have ever won the tournament. The deck is truly stacked in favour of the largest grossing teams; as FIFA plots, its annual UEFA vs. CONMEBOL final. There have only been two tournaments where this trend was bucked. In 2010, TP Mazembe from the DR Congo played in the final against Inter Milan. Whilst in the 2013 Morocco edition, the home team (who also have to play four games) reached the final and played against Bayern Munich. Both African teams faltered at the final hurdle without scoring a goal.
Collectively as a confederation, UEFA is the most successful team in the competition's short history having seen eight European teams win the championship. Brazil as an individual nation been the most successful, having a representative win four times and a further two finish as runners-up. At club level, Barcelona should be considered the masters having won the title on three separate occasions. Luis Suárez famously became the tournament's all-time top goalscorer by scoring five goals in just two games. The fact that a player can achieve such an accolade in a such a short space of time showcases that the tournament is poorly run.

The seven team system and the phased entry method does not lend itself to the tournament. There seems to be an almost obvious solution to this problem. Introduce another team to the tournament and contain the tournament to a knock-out system. This would also alleviate the amount of games that teams have to play; all teams would play an equal maximum of three games. The obvious question then being, “who else would you invite to play?”. The most plausible answer would be the previous winner if they hadn't already qualified.  Should they had already qualified, the runner-up would play, and so on until the eight teams spots were filled. This would legitimise the tournament: making it fairer and a much better watch for football fans around the world.
It's sad that this article has been largely negative about the cup. To lighten the mood, here are the highlights from the highest scoring game in the tournament's history, an eight-goal thriller between UEFA Champions League winners, Manchester United and AFC Champions league title-winners, Gamba Osaka from the 2008 tournament. Showing that this tournament has the potential to entertain us.
Warren Smith

A British and J.League soccer enthusiast, now local to Yokohama, Japan. A keen Arsenal supporter. Has been known to play the game every once in awhile, once likened to Xherdan Shaqiri. 


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