Wednesday, November 23, 2005

This is the World Club Championship

World Club Championship.
This is the World Club Championship

Football’s global club competition, the FIFA World Club Championship, has not enjoyed an easy time in seeking to become the world’s most prestigious club tournament. It was Real Madrid president Jamie Bernard who first proposed the idea for the event during the 1950s. This was unsurprising, as the Spaniards had won the European title on five consecutive occasions from its inception, and doubtless wanted to propel their status still further, turning continental domination into catholic supremacy. Indeed the inter-continental competition that began soon after was erected under the preface that the winners could unequivocally claim to be the best side in the world.

In reality however, the competition has had difficulty in developing and maintaining such lofty status. The enhancement of this lagging reputation has been impeded in no small part by the Europeans, who have in the past viewed the competition more as a practical inconvenience than a yardstick for prestige. During the 1970s football’s home continent decided against even sending a representative team. Then in 1978, when Liverpool decided against participating, the competition was cancelled. A wise course of action to take, one based on a logical thought process you might say: 'If the Scousers aren't coming what’s the point', I can only assume must have been the official explanation.

Now forget all this modern hype about most English fans despising Chelsea, Man United and Arsenal. When I was growing up in South Liverpool during the 1980s it was Nottingham Forest who were considered the enemy. And when the Toyota Cup was introduced following the demise and ultimate cancellation of the World Club Championship, it was Clough’s side who were the cheeky enough to put themselves in the reckoning for the event. One league title, that’s the sum total of their domestic achievements – one. And although their European record is more impressive - they are the only team to have won the European Cup more times than their own domestic league - the Nottinghamshire minnows still got the chance to conquer the world. As painful as it is to admit, it was Forest, having defeated the cream of Europe, who went on to face opposition from further field in the opening edition of the newly erected Toyota Cup. Needless to say, they failed, falling at the hands of Uruguay's Nacional. Cue smug grin and enforced replay of the 5-0 drubbing of Forest at Anfield one memorable April evening in 1988.

The current format no longer involves a one-off contest between the Kings of South America and Europe, as was previously the case. And rightly so, for surely a true world club tournament requires representatives from the whole world. So this year’s event will incorporate a clash of the continental kings, involving Deportivo Saprissa of Costa Rica, Australia's Sydney FC, Sao Paulo from Brazil, Al Ahly of Egypt, Al Ittihad from Saudi Arabia, and of course Liverpool of Liverpool. The six teams will come together for a week-long event in December; a competition that FIFA are hoping will prove a huge success and subsequently see its profile propelled on the world football stage. Of course, if you want to increase the popularity of something it’s always wise to remarket it and then maybe give it a memorable name. FIFA have clearly adopted this ethos, with the competition currently known as the ‘World Club Championship Toyota Cup’. Mmm, catchy.

Irrespective of its lengthy title, its inconsistent past and somewhat clouded current status however, the event will certainly prove a success in 2005. Why? Simply because it will boast some of the finest footballing talent on the planet. Millions will surely flock to television screens to see the likes of Traore, Josemi and Crouch in action - sporting icons and good looking lads to boot. It’s a marketers dream.

In terms of competition structure, the champions of Asia, Oceania, Africa and North America will play first, which is only fair I suppose. Liverpool and Sao Paulo will have to wait until the semi-final stage before meeting the respective winners of the opening two encounters. So then, prepare yourself for an intercontinental feast of club football, where the kings of each of the globe’s six sub-sections will commence battle in Toyota, Tokyo and Yokohama for the title of ‘the greatest team in the world’,. …as soon as I can get my doctor to sign my sick note to get me out of work for a week, I’ll be on a plane to the Far East to watch the show unfold.

Tokyo, Yokohama, Toyota, Japan

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