Heart of Football

FIFA Club World Cup: World Champions of Irrelevance?

It is now time for your main event of the season…

To my left, sporting blue shirts and blue shorts, at an impressive 116 years old, the reigning, defending, undisputed European champions….The Blues….CHELSEA!!

To my right, wearing their iconic green shirts and white shorts, legends of the Campeonato Brasilieiro, standing at a formidable 107 years old, three-time South American champions…Campeão do Século….PALMEIRAS!!

Are you ready?


For the thousands in attendance, for the…dozens watching around the world. Ladies and gentlemen…LLLLLLET’S GET READY TO RUMBLE!!!

Said nobody, ever. Not even Michael Buffer.

And what a shame it is. If this were Tyson Fury vs Deontay Wilder, Hulk Hogan vs The Rock or even Michael van Gerwen vs Peter Wright, then sports broadcasters and social media would be all over it. There would be a buzz. An unavoidable tsunami of hype and hyperbole flooding your eyes and your ears. Anyone would think this was a pre-season friendly, not a match for the world championship.

We, as football fans, go weak at the knees when the World Cup final comes round. If Brazil and England were to battle it out at Qatar 2022 for the famous gold trophy the planet would stop everything and pay attention. English and Brazilian fans alike would book days off, spend thousands of pounds and real to be there to witness the heavyweight encounter.

But the Club World Cup is less Rumble in the Jungle for British audiences, and more fart in a lift. Who cares? What does it matter? Another few minutes and it’ll be forgotten about. Do Chelsea care?

Palmeiras most certainly will care. They have been supported already in the UAE by a reported 15,000 fans desperate for their club to lift what they see as the pinnacle of world football.

“You can imagine for these teams when they play Chelsea, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity… The atmosphere is going to be all for Palmeiras. They’re very aware of how they must perform; they are very disciplined, and very focused. This is huge for them – they are playing for their lives.”

ESPN Brasil’s Natalie Gedra explains the significance of the Club World Cup for non-British fans to James Richardson on the Totally Football Show this week

As a child I remember watching the inaugural 2000 edition of the World Club Championships. As a faux fan of Manchester United, I tuned in to see the famous Treble winners take over the world. Spoiler alert – they did not. It was an abject failure. They faired much better in 2008 when they were in fact crowned world champions but the question marks remain the same – was anyone actually bothered?

The controversy that this tournament creates, at least in England, means that it holds very little relevance or affection in both the fans of the participating clubs and the Football Association. Each time an English club wins the UEFA Champions League, the debate follows whether the club should attend the World Championships, let alone attempt to win them. The tournament is inevitably held anywhere but Europe; Japan and the Middle East have hosted 15 out of the 18 events, with Brazil and Morocco completing the set.

The question is asked (in a rather pompous and overtly arrogant manner): “Would you rather go to the other side of the world and play for some Mickey Mouse cup, or uphold the long-standing tradition of the FA Cup?” It seems ‘both’ is not an acceptable answer, nor is ‘we want to be champions of the world’. The impression given that a club wanting to compete for the Club World Cup is somehow disrespectful to the 150-year-old domestic competition is surely hypocritical in that by snubbing the opportunity to represent your continent as champion and test yourself against the elite of other continents is disrespectful in itself. Yes, it is a relatively young competition and is still evolving, but if nobody takes it seriously then it will never amount to anything.

There are plans on the horizon for a revamp of the event to be more inclusive and significant on the global calendar. Effectively this will make it a worldwide Champions League of Champions. Maybe that is the key; maybe sexing it up a bit and increasing its marketability is what will make football associations and fans alike treat the competition with more respect. Who knows?

Rising above all the questionable controversies and contemptuous intolerance of anything not British, this is an important event. Or at least it should be. It should hold the equivalent weight for football clubs as the World Cup does for football nations. The champions of Europe against the Champions of South America; England vs Brazil. It is Chelsea vs Palmeiras, and we should not only treat it with respect but we should embrace it, celebrate it and care about it.

And after the bell rings, whichever team comes out on top, we should shout with great fanfare, ‘Here are your winners…and the new reigning, defending, champions of the world…..’

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