A question such as this—whether a particular tournament is meaningful—is often extremely subjective. Ask pretty much anyone outside of eastern Spain if the Copa Catalunya is important and they’ll ask what that is before shaking their head. I’ve compared the Europa League to the American college basketball second-tier National Invitational Tournament (NIT); the Intertoto Cup stopped existing in 2008, but you probably noticed right now when you read those words.
The FIFA Club World Cup, a yearly tournament since 2005 (there was a 2000 version as well) is the new incarnation of the Intercontinental Cup created in 1960. That tournament was hosted in Japan from 1980 until its assimilation into the FIFA brand after its 2004 edition (prior to 1980 there was a home-and-home format). Not everyone in Europe cared a massive amount about that tournament either and the trophy tally shows that: South America won 22 times to Europe’s 21. South American teams won the first 3 Club World Cups, but the 4 since then have all been won by European teams.
Given Barcelona’s lineup in the 2006 final, it would be insulting to the South American teams to suggest the Europeans weren’t taking it seriously, but there simply wasn’t the same kind of pressure to win everything. European teams are trying to capture foreign audiences and this is one tournament that can help them do that while also putting up a trophy for the fans at home and, in Barcelona’s case, the current president.
Now that Barça has gotten a taste of victory in the tournament, it has become something that the fans want to repeat: “if we win this, we’re world champions.” But given the tournament’s format, which puts the South American and European champions into the semifinals while forcing all the other teams to play at least one match prior to that round, it’s hardly the fairest of competitions. It’s set up so that the biggest clubs face off in the final. Only once so far has a team from outside those two federations (CONMEBOL and UEFA) made it: last year’s surprise finalists TP Mazembe, a Congolese team who is best known for their goalie’s celebrations.
A tournament that is not particularly challenging is also not brag worthy. I once won a ping pong tournament at my parents’ church, which is great for me, but only 3 others had entered and they didn’t really know how to play. Wasn’t really worth mentioning to my friends later. Much better was the ping pong tournament at my high school where I came in 2nd. There was actual competition and it meant something even if I didn’t win it. Though obviously my opponent in the final cheated and should have been sent off for that slide tackle in the first half.
In the end, the Club World Cup is a fun way to show off the talents of the entire world. Watching Mazembe last year and Estudiantes the year before were enjoyable experiences for someone that doesn’t often get to see African or even South American football. This year featured Tunisia’s Esperance, Qatar’s Al-Sadd, surprising semifinalists Kashiwa Reysol, Mexico’s Monterrey, and
Australia New Zealand’s Auckland City. Those teams combined to produce some quality football, but eventually fell to tougher opponents and the final now features what most people wanted to see at the start: Santos-Barça.
No matter what happens, this will not be an important victory in any real sense.
This post has been updated to correct the error that Auckland is, of course, in New Zealand and not Australia as previously written. Kudos to the reader who spotted it.