By J Hutcherson (Aug 14, 2018) US Soccer Players – Wednesday’s UEFA Super Cup doesn’t officially start anything. It’s not the kickoff for either of Europe’s club tournaments, both well into qualifying at this point. UEFA’s Champions League couldn’t even get out of the way for the World Cup, playing games while that tournament was still underway in Russia. The domestic leagues in Europe stagger their starts, creating an interesting situation for La Liga. It starts on Friday, already playing their traditional Supercopa de Espana.
Somehow, in an all-La Liga UEFA Super Cup, neither of those two teams played in the domestic version. Sunday’s SuperCopa saw league champions Barcelona beat domestic cup holders Sevilla 2-1. For the UEFA version, it’s Champions League winners Real Madrid playing Europa League winners Atletico Madrid at A. Le Coq Arena in Estonia. Seating capacity 15,000.
That UEFA is putting their Super Cup in a stadium that wouldn’t qualify to host the Champions League or Europa League final sort of makes the point. Not even the organizers attempt to stress the importance of yet another trophy. The Super Cup counts, but we all know it doesn’t count as much.
Since it’s probably worth the reminder, La Liga teams have dominated the Super Cup in recent years. It was a foregone conclusion in 2014, 15, 16, and now 2018 with Spanish clubs winning the Champions League and Europa League. For a one-off final that attempts to turn both of those tournaments into qualifiers, it’s an even bigger ask to take the Super Cup seriously.
Real Madrid winning on Wednesday would tie them with Barcelona for most wins at five, and provide the answer to the kind of trivia question that makes people angry. In real terms, this is an obligation game that takes nothing away from what happened at the end of last season. Real Madrid is the best team in Europe until the next Champions League final. It’s how this works, stressing the concept of defending champion in a tournament with “Champions” in its title.
It’s easy enough to draw a line between games that count and everything else, especially when discussing fixture congestion and player fatigue. There’s a tendency to push anything even quasi-official into the “counts” category, but that allows for things like the Super Cup and its domestic league equivalents. Do they really count? England’s Community Shield was such a high priority for American broadcasters in what’s now a highly competitive market it ended up only available online. PSG lifted France’s Trophee des Champions in Shenzen, China. Spain’s Supercopa happened in Tangiers. The Supercoppa Italiana got moved to the winter break in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Maybe that’s a lesson for UEFA, taking the Super Cup on tour after finally giving up on a single-city host. That was Monaco, by the way. Some of you might remember ESPN broadcasters giving us the annual reminder that there’s a parking deck underneath Stade Louis II. Super Cup memories, the kind of thing that builds a tradition of asking why anybody bothers.
To 2018, with Real Madrid facing a series of questions the Super Cup won’t begin to answer. How will they adjust to life without the two key components to their Champions League three-peat? Was last season’s La Liga season where they finished 17 points behind Barcelona and three points behind Atletico proof that this is a team already in transition? Can new coach Julen Lopetegui shake off his exit from Spain’s national team on the eve of the World Cup, transition from international soccer to club, and somehow overcome the exit of Cristiano Ronaldo? Again, we’re not going to learn any more about that than we did from the club’s friendly schedule.
As for Atletico Madrid, trying to predict when the finances and better offers for coach Diego Simeone will bring their current era of success to an end. They spent €60m euros on Monaco midfielder Thomas Lemar, a statement of intent in La Liga and Europe. How that works in practice is part of the magic of Simeone.
As a coach, Simeone has shown he can put together a squad and keep them in contention while players move in and out. The transfer budget certainly helps. If he needs a new striker, the club buys Diego Costa. If he needs a new midfielder, welcome Lemar to the club. We’re already at the point where Simeone moving to a bigger club is relative. His Atletico isn’t the biggest club in Madrid, but they have to be in the conversation for best in Europe.
UEFA’s club coefficient supports that opinion. Atletico is 2nd to Real Madrid. Switch that to ten-years, and they fall all the way to 4th-place. This is an elite organization by any standard, the team that lost the 2013-14 and 2015-16 Champions League finals to Real Madrid.
Getting one over on their city rivals would make a game without that history. Nobody is going to sub in a Super Cup in Estonia for a derby day in Madrid, much less the two meeting in a Champions League final. There’s just no comparison here. It’s also that same question for UEFA. Why? In 2018, is this a necessary game?
Maybe that’s not the right question. It’s necessary because it’s traditional probably isn’t either. It’s tough to imagine a team parading the Super Cup through their city’s streets days before the start of the domestic campaign. Space on the schedule has become a loaded concept with FIFA, UEFA, the domestic leagues, and the clubs themselves more than happy to fill in any empty slots.
Where this leaves us is that simple concept professional soccer likes to avoid addressing. When is it too much? What gets cut to put the focus where it belongs, on the games that really count.
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 email@example.com.
More from J Hutcherson: