The FIFA Club World Cup is no longer a proper measure to decide the best club team in the world.
Because of huge investments in European soccer in the last decade the European clubs (UEFA) have a big money advantage over the rest of the world and can buy the best players which gives them a big advantage over the 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 changes in the game and has therefore lost its relevance and purpose.
PURPOSE OF THE TOURNAMENT
The competition was started in 2000 (when it absorbed its predecessor the Intercontinental Cup) and was formed as a yearly competition to showcase the best local talent from the various confederations. The idea was that the winners in each continental tournament would compete against each other and the winner crowned as the best club team in the world. This was the theory but in practice it has turned out differently.
Previously the best non-European players pursued their careers in their home countries and were unknown to foreign audiences. The Club World Cup gave these players a chance to showcase their skills on the world stage and at that time there was parity between clubs in Europe and South America.
Conmebol teams won the trophy in the first three years of the competition but after that the European teams dominated and the balance of power shifted to Europe.
DAVID vs GOLIATH
The beginning of European domination coincided in the early part of the current century with a massive influx of investment in UEFA soccer at club level. The fallout from this is that today there is a great disparity of income between European clubs and the other confederations.
The winner of the European Champions League earns much more money than the other continental tournaments combined. Real Madrid made $70.1 million last season for winning the UEFA Champions League. In contrast San Lorenzo made $6.1 million for winning Copa Libertadores (Conmebol), ES Setie made $1.8 million for winning the African (CAF) Champions League and in Asia Western Sydney Wanderers made about the same for defeating Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal over two legs (YAHOO SPORTS – Why does the Club World Cup still struggle for relevance?; by Peter Staunton, December 12, 2014).
With such money on hand, the best talent that money can buy are in Europe’s major leagues, lured by the lucrative contracts that these leagues have to offer. This means that Europe has at its disposal its own talent and whatever the rest of the world has.
The biggest losers in the exodus of soccer talent to Europe are Brazil and Argentina which are the leading exporters of players, so what is Europe’s gain is South America’s loss.
Accordingly, every other side at the Club World Cup is at a disadvantage in comparison with Europe’s Champions League holder. The tournament has evolved from being a rivalry into a battle of David versus Goliath, between European clubs represented by what is tantamount to a World eleven made up mostly of the best international players and the minnows, comprising what is left over after the best of their talent have been siphoned off by the big UEFA clubs.
The current 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 assembly of players is hardly representative of the local game in Spain. For three players, namely, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and James Rodriquez the club paid $367.8 million. Only twelve clubs in the world possess a squad of players whose market value is worth more than the total cost of these three.
Compare that to Auckland City FC one of its competitors in this year’s Club World Cup which is a team of mere amateurs having full-time occupations outside of soccer.
A look at some of the previous champions reveals the heavy foreign component of their squads. In 2010 when Inter Milan (Italy) won the cup, only 5 players in their squad of 23 were Italians while the rest were mostly from South America. Even the television commentators failed to keep up with the changes as they still referred to the Inter team as ‘the Italians’.
In 2011 Barcelona won the cup and 10 of their 23-man squad were from overseas.
Another big problem with the tournament is that teams from UEFA and South America are given a bye to the semi-finals and start playing even after some of the sides are eliminated. This is intentionally done so that only the biggest clubs face off 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 side.
Given the money advantage enjoyed by UEFA and the bizarre format that is currently in place, the Club World Cup can hardly be called the fairest of competitions and the winner cannot legitimately be called ‘the best in the world’ anymore than the winners of the former Intercontinental Cup which was limited to UEFA and Conmebol. The tournament has lost its importance and is hardly bragworthy. Some years ago I won a dancing contest but the other contestants couldn’t dance, so was my victory something to brag about?
Some parity needs to be restored to the competition. Brazil and Argentina have started to raise wages in their local leagues to entice their players to remain at home. That is a start but in addition to that, FIFA must 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 this, it is pointless to continue the competition in its present form.
Victor A. Dixon
December 23, 2014