By J Hutcherson (Mar 26, 2019) US Soccer Players - In a meeting earlier today in Amsterdam, the European Club Association confirmed what we already know. They have issues with FIFA revamping the Club World Cup. Earlier this month in a FIFA Council meeting in Miami, world soccer's governing body expanded the Club World Cup, moved it from December to the summer, and set it for every four years rather than annually.
“We have repeatedly stressed that the International Match Calendar and competitions have been agreed and defined up to 2024," ECA chairperson Andrea Agnelli said. "The main priority at this stage must be for stakeholders to engage in a detailed assessment of how the landscape of international football might evolve post-2024 prior to addressing specific competitions. FIFA’s decision to revamp its Club World Cup starting 2021 is one ECA cannot support."
This is no small statement from an outsider organization pushing for influence in the global game. This is the representative body for the teams FIFA needs for any version of the Club World Cup to succeed. Even with them involved, that's not a given. The tournament's history already speaks to its status as not resonating with the participants or fans. That's certainly got to be on the minds of European stakeholders, well aware of other things that could take the place of the Club World Cup on the summer schedule.
Agnelli's own club Juventus is one of those global brands FIFA will need to maintain the respectability of the Club World Cup. It's worth the reminder that the expanded version requires more from Europe than the participation of the UEFA Champions League winner. The point of the expansion is to bring in additional teams with global followings.
Juventus and its contemporaries are well aware of their drawing power. The summer touring schedule speaks to that, something that may not necessarily need to make games really count. FIFA has convinced itself that's not the case, pushing to attach meaning to a global club championship.
After all of these years of imposing the Club World Cup on the schedule, it's still worth asking why. The need to crown a true global champion would undoubtedly take more than an annual tournament at a neutral site in December. Th same is probably true for the revamp that moves it to summer every four years. The facade of a World Cup schedule doesn't change much of anything for how clubs approach the competition. It's once again out of sync with the club schedule unless confederations around the world launch club qualifiers. Short of that, it's either convoluting or ignoring multiple champions over a quadrennium.
When Concacaf decided it's bi-annual Gold Cup needed one champion to represent the region at the Confederations Cup, they staged a one-off deciding game. A similar scenario isn't likely to play out with European club soccer, well aware that they crown the de facto world champion at the end of each season.
The UEFA Champions League final is already the global event that FIFA would like the Club World Cup final to become. Disrupting the European hegemony at the top of the world table may not convince anybody that it really counts. Losing a summer tournament might not cast any shadow over a successful Champions League campaign. That trophy may simply continue to count more.
Even with that in mind, FIFA pressing ahead is no surprise. Though it's a good question for why they want to even be involved in the club game, we're in an era where their insistence is predictable. It's a similar situation with World Cup expansion and the push for a global Nations League. More has to be better, especially when it's a product FIFA controls.
Meanwhile, we may already be in a situation where European clubs say no. They may not even need to do it through UEFA, bypassing the confederation to give their own representative body the final say. There's certainly some question as to how FIFA might respond, but even finding themselves in that situation is a sizable knock against the revamped Club World Cup. It's hard to take a global celebration of club soccer seriously when the biggest clubs in the world don't even want to be there.
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.
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Logo courtesy of the ECA