It’s a pity Ahly didn’t make it to the final of the World Club Championship (WCC) in Japan. A final appearance would have looked good on Ahly’s CV. But the club shouldn’t be too upset because the WCC is really not all that it’s cracked up to be.
The WCC could easily rival and in fact supersede the World Cup itself because fidelity to club is often so much stronger than to country. The frenzied multitudes that root for Manchester United and Real Madrid are not just in England and Spain but all over the place.
Strangely though, the WCC is not nearly as popular as the World Cup. Why? First, it’s always played in just one country. We have nothing against Japan but you cannot spread the popularity of any championship when it’s played every year in the same place. The World Cup changes venues every time. So does the Olympics. The European Champions League is held in a different city annually. So other sites are essential but the Japanese sponsors of the WCC are adamant the tournament is not going anywhere until at least 2010 when their contract expires.
The tournament is also too short – just eight days and seven matches. Unlike the World Cup which is one month and more than 50 games, and the African Cup of Nations which runs three weeks, the WCC is over before you know it. The maximum number of games a team plays is three. If you’re from Europe or South America, it’s two. There is no build up, of either excitement or tension. It’s as laconic as a “how do you do, thank you one-night stand.
Then there’s favoritism. It’s not fair that European and South American teams have a bye, and then waltz straight into the semis. The WCC is a European idea – first broached by Real Madrid president Santiago Bernabeu whose Spanish side had won the first five editions of the European Cup – to decide the best club in the world. But that should not mean that Europeans and South Americans watch as the have-nots battle for the right to meet them.
Nor is the WCC a true representative of the globe. True, it has come a long way since just two teams contested for the title; the best from Europe against the best South America has to offer. (The first championship was in 1960 and it was called the Intercontinental Cup. Real Madrid romped past Penarol of Uruguay in a home and away affair. The first goal was scored by Ferenc Pushkas, the Hungarian legend who died last month). But the present six teams, though representing every continent, are not enough, nor are they the world’s six best teams. Only somebody hitting the cooking sherry would claim Auckland City is better than Chelsea or Jeonbuk Motors outclasses AC Milan.
One more thing. Europe does not take the WCC seriously. South Americans view it as the ultimate club contest made specifically to beat the Europeans who make much more money and are much more famous (we all know Barcelona’s line-up by heart but we know not a single player on Internacional, South America’s kings).
But Bayern Munich, Nottingham Forest and Ajax Amsterdam bypassed the chance to participate in the WCC in the 1970s. Apparently, with so much riding on the matches, passions on and off the pitch flared. European sides thus have come to regard the WCC as more trouble than it’s worth. Because the Europeans have lost interest, so too have the media. The world is saturated with World Cup news weeks before the kick-off, however, tomorrow’s WCC final is not forcing CNN to work overtime.
Perhaps then Ahly should not be too disappointed by their WCC tumble.