Yesterday, Tim Vickery of the BBC wrote an excellent article about the Club World Cup entitled "World Club Cup deserves respect". I highly recommend you read the article here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/timvickery/2010/12/post.html.
Tim's article got me thinking about ways to fix the Club World Cup. Tim argues that this competition suffers from two shortcomings: Quality and excitement. I would argue that the biggest problem is lack of quality. Europe and South America are the strongest regions of top-flight football in the world. Despite FIFA's expansion into the far reaches of the globe, all other regions suffer from a lack of quality relative to Europe and South America.
As a case in point, let us look at a team like TP Mazembe from Congo. This year, for the second year in a row, they've been Africa's representative at the Club World Cup. And again, no one seems to care. Aside from the lack of quality, I think it strikes most fans as just another tournament with no real relevance. Everyone knows that the best teams play in Europe. Despite the moniker of Club World Cup Champion, for most fans, the real World Champion at the club level is determined by the winner of the Champions League.
This is unfortunate because some of the sides playing in the Club World Cup, TP Mazembe for example, are very exciting to watch. Yet these teams are stricken with problems of geography rather than quality. There's no law that says good footballers only come from Europe and South America. Michael Essien, Samuel Eto'o, and others can attest to that. Yet most of the top-flight players from other regions leave to pursue "better football" in Europe. How then can we determine a true World Champion at the club level while also giving exposure (and better competition) to teams in weaker regions of the globe?
Should the Champions League be expanded to include the best sides from outside Europe?
The answer: Re-brand the Champions League to include the best teams from outside of Europe (MLS, Africa, Asia, and Oceania). By doing this you keep everything that is great about the Champions League in its current form, and enhance it by adding quality teams from abroad. It will give these teams the opportunity to play the very best football teams in the world and bring exposure to their players, leagues, and nations.
Strong teams from weak regions have a built-in advantage in advancing to the Club World Cup finals each year. TP Mazembe, for example, is making its second appearance in a row this year. They beat Mexican side Pachuca, took care of tournament host Al Wahda, and upset South American champs Internacional to advance to the finals on Saturday. Yet even if they upset Inter Milan, does anyone seriously think they're the best club team in the world? In advancing to the finals, they've basically only beat one really good team and two also-rans. Is this the best way to determine the best club team in the world?
But let's imagine for a moment adding TP Mazembe, Internacional, and Pachuca to the current Champions League. There they would have to defeat several of the top sides in Europe to advance to the finals. The odds of that happening are slim. The upside is that it would give them a ton of experience and elevate their profile around the world. It would also give the Champions League the distinction of determining the best club team in the world.
Right now, the Club World Cup is just another tournament that FIFA has to "sell" to the fan. The Champions League is one of the most-watched events in the world. The market already exists. By adding these teams to the Champions League, UEFA would go one up on FIFA, and effectively render the Club World Cup obsolete.
What do you think? Do you think adding the best sides from other regions around the world (MLS, Africa, Asia, Oceania, etc.) to the Champions League would be a good idea? By doing so, UEFA could re-brand the Champions League as a World Championship rather than just a European championship. It would give experience and exposure to lesser teams and help to elevate their profile around the world.
More importantly, it would do away with an unpopular tournament in the Club World Cup and provide the basis for enhancing the Champions League to determine the Club World Champion.