By J Hutcherson (Oct 31, 2017) US Soccer Players – FIFA’s Club World Cup started life with potential. Replacing the UEFA vs CONMEBOL Intercontinental Cup, the idea was a better way to determine a true world club champion. Well, that and it was good business for FIFA at least in theory. In practice, 2000 might be the high water mark for the Club World Cup.
Since 2000, there was a postponement that cost the LA Galaxy a shot at a world championship. We’ll pause there for a second to let the idea that a club with five whole seasons on the books might have won the Club World Cup sink in. There’s also the growing problem for FIFA that they haven’t really replaced the old Intercontinental Cup. A club from one of those two regions always wins.
At a meeting just last week in India, FIFA decided to go ahead and declare that all of those old Intercontinental Cup champions are now officially World champions. Nice of them, but most of us figured that out a long time ago.
Meanwhile, instead of an annual event each December with fans looking forward to see who really is the best team in the world, the Club World Cup is a problem. FIFA’s solution? Expansion and holding the tournament every four years in the summer. That’s according to AP’s Rob Harris, with FIFA Council member and German Federation president Reinhard Grindel providing the information.
It’s tough to even start on a 24-team summer Club World Cup that won’t happen until 2021. Well, other than to join everybody else in waving a not quite fond farewell to the current version.
We’re talking about FIFA, so there’s probably a catch. That would be the future of the Confederations Cup, another not so loved tournament FIFA put on the schedule. Used as a warmup for the World Cup hosts, it’s never been an easy tournament for countries or fans to embrace. Countries have said no to playing in the past. Others have sent experimental rosters rather than use their first-choice players. That was the situation with defending champions Germany, winning last summer’s tournament while complaining that it even exists.
The future of the Confederations Cup became a question the minute FIFA confirmed they couldn’t host a summer World Cup in Qatar. The 2022 World Cup got pushed to November/December. Common sense told us that even FIFA wouldn’t force a similarly scheduled Confederations Cup on world soccer the year before. Though there’s yet to be an official announcement, it’s a safe assumption that we’re not getting a Confederations Cup in 2021. So the question moves to replacing that date on the international calendar.
Based on past practice, leaving the summer of 2021 open is not something FIFA is likely to do. We’re not in a less is more era when it comes to soccer at any level. If there’s space, there will likely be a tournament. FIFA using what would’ve been a Confederations Cup summer to revitalize the Club World Cup makes sense. Certainly more than sticking with the current format in December.
FIFA’s problem here is determining what success and failure mean. It’s doubtful that a revamped Club World Cup is going to answer all of the problems with the current version. It’s likely that should FIFA move to the summer of 2021 they’ll encounter blowback from the clubs and leagues they need involved. Summer is touring season for the biggest names in international soccer. Obligating them to tournament games isn’t going to be as simple as playing for the honor of world champion.
It’s a dubious honor as it stands. Without a unified world calendar for club soccer, there’s no chance that newly minted confederation champions play off against each other for the world title. Adding games in a short-run tournament doesn’t turn this into a worldwide version of the Champions League. It’s just a different spin on an existing tournament that already carries with it some version of “that nobody likes” whenever it’s mentioned.
It’s hard to believe swapping out a national team tournament that also carries that unflattering tag line with a club tournament will improve things. More to the point, it adds to the list of complaints already loudly expressed by the major European leagues and their super clubs. They believe they’re the ones that should be in control of club soccer. It’s the ongoing club vs country debate with a revamped target.
FIFA’s position here isn’t surprising. They’re the ones in charge and the rest of world soccer will adjust accordingly. It’s the same mentality bringing us the revamped schedule for the 2022 World Cup and the revamped number of participants for 2026. Asking if any of this is good for the game misses the point. That might also be the case for FIFA itself.
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 at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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