As anyone who has read Jamie Carragher's autobiography can testify, the former Liverpool legend has been no stranger to making controversial comments over the years.
This week, everyone's second-favourite Sky Sports Monday Night Football pundit has used his column in The Daily Mail to offer his opinion on the forthcoming World Cup in Brazil. The 35-year-old believes the "World Cup is dying," and given the choice, most of us would rather watch the domestic game:
What would you be more excited about watching: Spain versus France or Spain’s champions (Barcelona) against France’s champions (Paris Saint-Germain)?
I would say the vast majority would go with the club collision every time.
In this example, you may see that Carra has a point.
A high-profile Champions League collision between Barcelona and PSG would be likely to offer the best players in the world, assembled purely for their footballing skill, rather than the country they happened to be born in. Also, considering the drab nature of many of the games in the most recent World Cup in South Africa, the European game look more virtuous in comparison.
However, Mr. Carragher's assertion that the World Cup is dying simply isn't true. In reality, it has never been more alive.
This week, we learned that the first round of ticket sales for next summer's Brazilian tournament have been an overwhelming success. According to the Washington Times, there have been over six million ticket requests so far, 70 per cent of which have come from Brazil. Nearly three quarters of a million people have each applied for tickets to attend the opening match and the final.
For a nation of people whom we have been led to believe are universally unhappy about hosting the World Cup, a 70 per cent claim for the tickets that are being demanded by fans from over 203 countries is impressive.
Another similar economic indicator of the World Cup's gleaming health is the battle for its TV rights. According to the BBC, FIFA earned $2 billion from TV and media rights at the 2010 (incidentally, that figure is heavily supplemented by an eye-watering revenue stream from the endless list of sponsors who wish to be aligned with the world's biggest football tournament). Fox Soccer in the USA are believed to have paid in the region of $425 million to show the action from Brazil, which suggests the tournament is only getting more popular.
Also, take a look at the relative TV audiences in the World Cup and the Champions League. According to UEFA, the 2013 Champions League Final at Wembley drew an estimated global average audience of 150 million and a projected global unique reach of over 360 million viewers.
That's a lot of eyes on European football's domestic showpiece, but it represents a mere slither of the home audience that watched the 2010 World Cup final. FIFA believe over 3.2 billion people watched Spain beat the Netherlands—that's almost half the world's population.
Does this sound like a tournament that is dying?
It is easy to understand Carragher's bias.
This is a man who has lived and breathed Liverpool throughout his career. He has had an uneasy relationship with the England national team, and even admitted in his aforementioned autobiography that he would rather miss for England than for Liverpool. Contrast Carra's role in an underwhelming national team set up with the kind of Champions League success he enjoyed in Istanbul in 2005, and it is easy to see his viewpoint.
His Englishness and domestic success are clouding the fact that a Champions League final can never be as big or important as a World Cup. The European club game may boast the finest players money can buy, but club football at this stage essentially boils down to money vs. money. When you cheer a Champions League finalist, you are effectively cheering for one business to be more successful than another.
The World Cup, on the other hand, is a matter of national pride. The players aren't on the field because of the cheques they are receiving; they are there to represent their country, to bring their homeland glory and cement their own legendary status.
Carragher argues that summer tournaments rarely give us players at their best, because they are exhausted by the time it rolls around. The former defender says that he played 70 games in the year of the 2006 World Cup, and that he was almost "on his knees" by the quarter-final stage.
This is a fair point, and one he suggests will be remedied by a winter tournament in 2022. But why will the switch of season make it any easier? Players will still have the same amount of games to play, but they would have the remainder of the domestic season—and the wrath of their employer—looming over them while at the tournament.
If the domestic game is so important, why disturb it and leave players weary for its conclusion? Why have them hold back with their performances because they know they have another half of a season to get through?
Carragher concludes his column by insisting that "action must be taken to restore the World Cup to its former glories." If we replace the phrase "the World Cup" with the word "England," the statement makes a lot more sense.
For Carragher's problem with the tournament seems to be one of perspective: If he had been a part of a more successful national set-up, and of a more patriotic persuasion, it seems likely that he would feel more positive toward it.
The World Cup is the biggest prize in football; it only occurs every four years, and therefore, players who participate in it are part of a very exclusive club.
To paraphrase the words of a famous American author, rumours of the World Cup's death have been greatly exaggerated.
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