Yesterday, Real Madrid defeated the Argentine side San Lorenzo 2-0 in Marrakech, Morocco to win the FIFA Club World Cup. I wouldn’t hold it against you if you had no idea either. The footballing community has reached a general consensus that this is an irrelevant tournament, which is unfortunate because the Club World Cup is an appealing idea. The tournament brings together the best team from each the 6 continents, giving clubs from Africa and Asia their chance to be introduced to the world often for the first time and determine internationally who is the best club.
Except the best club is predetermined before the tournament even starts. The European team comes in and half asses their way to the title. Real Madrid only had to give about 35% to coast past San Lorenzo. In the last 8 years, the European team has won the title 7 times. It’s impossible for there to be parity in this tournament. The framework for club football in Europe has existed far longer than in any other continent. The only one that can come close to matching the history of European football is South America and it’s no surprise that Brazilian clubs have won the other 4 installments of the tournament. So if the Club World Cup comes down to 2 teams while the other 5 clubs (champion of the host nation’s league also gets a bid) travel halfway across the world just for the chance to shake hands with Cristiano Ronaldo, what’s even the point?
That’s simple, there’s money to be had. The sponsorship deals that accompany the tournament are too much for Sepp Blatter and his FIFA henchmen to walk away. If scraping the whole thing isn’t an option, then steps need to be made to improve it. One improvement that I believe will introduce a little more parity is making the tournament biennial. The tournament at the moment is just a major inconvenience, coming right in the middle of the European season. Having it every other year could present the opportunity for a two-week break in the season where club football pauses and focuses their eyes solely on this tournament. Also a tournament every two years would mean more teams, each continent now being represented by the past two winners of their respective Champions Leagues. They even could have a playoff between winners of the Europa League and Copa Sudamericana to give Europe and South America a third team. More teams would mean a group stage. As we saw at this summer’s World Cup in Brazil, the group stage can create chaos (see: Spain, Costa Rica). However, what can truly make this tournament more exciting is obvious. The sport’s infrastructure needs to improve in the other continents.
On the same day Real Madrid were giving their lesser opponents the business, Asian football made a huge stride forward. In Mumbai, Atlético de Kolkata stole the Indian Super League title from Kerala Blasters with a 95th minute header. In the inaugural season of the Indian Super League, the experiment has largely been heralded a success. The league was created to make football a top sport in India as well as a major player worldwide. Viewership statistics for matches has been in the hundreds of millions. The competition will surely be back next year and hopefully will push the sport further into the consciousness of the country.
Asia is an untapped market begging for the football world to reach out. While the gap between the Indian Super League and English Premier League is still immeasurable, quickly developing countries like India are finding the resources to close this gap fast. Most professional leagues in Asia have only been around for a couple of decades, but their popularity among their people was instant. With Asia’s ever expanding economies, these leagues are at no loss for sponsors and have seen huge amounts of cash infused into promotion of the sport. Sponsors and television deals lead to new training grounds and more money for coaching and youth development. These effects are already coming to the foreground in the Indian Super League. The final was not dominated by the aging Premier League rejects, but rather by the young Indian homegrowns. 22-year-old Mohammed Rafique, born and raised in the West Bengal region, scored the decisive 95th minute goal for Kolkata. With the Indian Super League gaining such popularity, the country will start to see their best athletes choose football over the nation’s pastime cricket.
Don’t get me wrong, India still have a long way to go in becoming a superior football nation. The Super League has presented the sponsors and interest though to make it a fast climb. Countries often use sport to showcase to the world their rise as a global power. India looks like they’re making football their sport of choice. It will be interesting to see in the upcoming decades whether Asia’s increasing capital can begin to cancel out a century of European domination. While it might be smooth sailing for Europe in the FIFA Club World Cup right now, competition is coming in the near future.