It’s been a crazy year for Chelsea. After AVB was dismissed after a bad start to his first season in charge, club legend Di Matteo took the reigns and turned the club around, eventually leading them to Champions League glory. Whilst it was understood by many as being the main prize that owner Roman Abramovich was gasping for, it appeared as though it wasn’t enough as Di Matteo was eventually sacked and replaced by Rafa Benetiz, much to the amusement of the clubs fans. Now as Benetiz leads Chelsea into their first ever Club World Cup final tonight against Copa Libertadores champions Corinthians, he will be desperate to get his hands on some silverware in an attempt to hold on to his job for a while longer.
Chelsea have a good chance of beating Corinthians who were less than impressive in their semi final win against Egypt’s Al-Ahly but the real question is what value this win would actual bring to Chelsea. Granted it would add some additional cash to the clubs coffers ($5million for the winner and $4million for the runner-up) but for a team bankrolled by a billionaire, is this a good reason to travel mid-season to Japan for two games? Hardly. The Club World Cup is not really about football, it’s about brand building. With only four teams competing, one from each of the six continental confederations (there is a mini tournament between the 3 lesser confederations beforehand to work out which team progresses), it’s not really a tournament as such.
Chelsea will be hopeful that history repeats itself as the past 5 winners of the final have been from Europe with Brazilian team Internacional the last team to pick up the trophy for South American in 2005. So far, the UK press has been consumed with the return of form of Fernando Torres who expertly dispatched Monterrey in the semi final, but for realists out there, it was merely Torres getting on the score sheet against a much weaker side. There in lies the fundamental problem with this supposed tournament. In the last 11 years, every final has been fought out between the Champions League and the Copa Libertadores winners, except for one occasion when African Champions League winners, TP Mazembe upset the odds to reach the final where they were eventually thrashed by Inter Milan, ironically managed by one Rafa Benetiz. As the clubs in Europe and South America grow in stature and pedigree each year, the other champions are unable to keep pace and the gap in class widens till eventually the Cup’s early games look more like Chelsea vs Barnet in the FA Cup than Chelsea playing against the CONCACAF champions.
To solve this problem, FIFA needs to re-examine why it holds this competition in the first place and radically change its setup. Firstly expanding the number of teams involved would make sense, even if it is just to increase it from 4 to 8, it may offer some more competition. Secondly the timing of the tournament makes not sense either as it falls in the middle of domestic leagues, causing disruption for the teams involved in the tournament and the leagues. Thirdly, the location is not ideal. Whilst it is understandable that they need to find somewhere that is geographically in the middle for the competing teams, it still results in a lot of additional travel for the teams competing, especially like Chelsea during the middle of a busy domestic campaign. Perhaps UEFA has the correct approach with its plans for EURO 2020 and beyond, with no host country and instead a variety of countries closer to home hosting games. At Chelsea’s match against Monterray in the semi finals, the stadium was half full with only 1,000 Chelsea fans making the long trip to Japan for the game. You could actually hear the players talking to each other during the game, because the crowd was so quiet.
FIFA needs to step in and either change the format of this dithering tournament or axe it all together. For Benetiz, who is looking for his 2nd Club World Cup after that win with Inter, will aim to inspire his Chelsea team towards glory tonight as he knows anything less than success is rewarded with the axe. Although with Pep Guardiola finally taking off his sabbatical slippers and ready to step back into management, the result tonight might not matter, especially when Abramovich is involved. At least for Rafa, a second win will help bolster his resume as he faces the possibility of looking for yet another job.