By J Hutcherson – WASHINGTON, DC (Dec 19, 2013) US Soccer Players – It’s that time of year again, when children and adults the world over dream of their club lifting the… uhm. Does the Club World Cup trophy have a name? For that matter, does anybody really care?
There’s the notion that if a Major League Soccer team made its way through the gauntlet of the CONCACAF Champions League and qualified for December’s favorite club tournament, it would be a major step for MLS. That’s an untested idea since MLS teams can’t displace the Mexican clubs in CONCACAF.
The Club World Cup is Mexico’s to lose, and they underwhelm on an annual basis in the modern era of the tournament. No need to look it up, Liga MX’s representative fell at the first hurdle. They won’t be facing off against the champions of Europe or South America. All they’ve proved in 2013 is the same thing they showed last year. The Club World Cup is that step too far.
Does this speak poorly of Mexico and the CONCACAF brand of club soccer they represent? Maybe, but it’s not a blanket statement of contempt for the quality of soccer in this part of the world. Nobody would flatter the Club World Cup with that degree of importance. None of us are reconsidering what it means to be an elite soccer club because Raja Casablanca is playing for the world title.
It’s a December distraction at this point, inconveniencing a couple of the world’s elite clubs by making them navigate an afterthought of a tournament. Does it even matter that it’s not a Europe – South America final? Unless you’re a staunch supporter of Moroccan club soccer, probably not. Is it a concern that the host country’s entry might take the title without winning their Confederation championship? Probably not.
It’s surprising that this is still the case in 2013. Europe as a whole seems to view this tournament as something that’s only important to everybody else. Win or lose at world level, the UEFA Champions League isn’t sweating the strength of the Copa Libertadores or any of the Confederation club tournaments. Neither should anybody else. We’re all aware what the best clubs in the world look like when they’re playing for the highest stakes. It’s not the Club World Cup.
‘Can it be?’ doesn’t seem like a fair question in 2013. The answer is the same as last year and the years before that. It’s a resounding no, with whatever momentum FIFA might have established with the first tournament long ago squandered. Moving the tournament to a regular spot on the calendar each December hasn’t given it a boost.
We’re still firmly in an era where losing at Club World Cup level means relatively little. That doesn’t just apply to the smaller clubs. A European or South American champion coming away with little more than frequent flyer miles from a Club World Cup doesn’t take away from winning the Champions League or the Libertadores. Winning either of those competitions and failing at the Club World Cup stage isn’t a failure. It’s barely even remembered. Until that changes, this is a tournament with a problem.
At least publicly, FIFA seems to believe repetition will establish the importance of the competition. Repetition can also turn something into a chore. The Club World Cup has yet to have a breakthrough moment where the game proves FIFA’s point. It might never have one.
Appeals to the history of trying to determine a world club champion don’t mean much now. The Intercontinental Cup and the Toyota Cup that replaced it suffered from the same lack of meaning. Some teams took it very seriously, others not so much. This should sound oddly familiar to the few playing close attention to the Club World Cup.
From the beginning, fixture congestion is part of the problem. It’s not just playing too many games over a short stretch. It’s that there’s always another game looming. The Bundesliga might be on break, but Bayern Munich have that league and the Champions League draw to consider. Monterrey joins the rest of Liga MX concentrating on the trade deadline and preparations for the start of the 2014 Clausura. There’s always something important on the horizon, including that National Team tournament in Brazil this summer.
Where this leaves FIFA’s pet club tournament is now an annual question. Why impose a competition on the world when it’s unable to draw the appropriate interest? Why ignore what the lack of a worldwide audience means? Why allow a tournament, any tournament, to become at best a distraction rather than an honor?
So here we are, again. A tournament in relative isolation, without the audience the organizers believe it deserves. The winner becomes world champion of club soccer, whatever that means.
J Hutcherson started covering soccer in 1999 and has worked as the general manager of the US National Soccer Team Players Association since 2002. Contact him firstname.lastname@example.org.
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