As the quarterfinal round of the CONCACAF Champions League begins this week, pitting four Liga MX clubs against four MLS clubs, my thoughts wandered toward the tournament the eventual winner plays in: the Club World Cup. First held in its current incarnation in 2000, the Club World Cup pits the winners of each of the continental tournaments (Asia, Oceana, Europe, Africa, South America and North/Central America), along with a club from the tournament’s host nation, in a competition that should be a jewel of world football.
But for some reason, it’s not. It’s scheduled abysmally, during the late November/early December window that is packed with fixtures for basically every league that might be represented. The competition is lopsided, with a playoff round that pits the host nation club against another lower-seeded club (Oceana, for example) to get into a quarter final round that only involves the clubs representing Asia, Africa and North/Central America. The winners of those quarterfinal matches play the representatives from South America and Europe. According to this evisceration of the tournament by Vice Sports, nine tournaments out of the first eleven ended up with a final between the European champion and the South American champion.
I propose three major changes to the competition: move it to August, eliminate the “host nation”, and dramatically expand the number of teams that qualify.
First: change the schedule. Holding the tournament in August would allow it to be a preseason warm up for the European clubs, meaning that there are fewer competitions for these teams to worry about. Argentina is moving to the European calendar, so they will be in the preseason as well. Brasileirão begins in May, so the Brazilian clubs would be in mid-season form. Mexican clubs would be rounding into form, as the Apertura begins in July. And if an MLS club qualifies, it’s in the heart of the season, admittedly a more difficult window, but far better than having it coincide with the MLS Cup playoffs.
Second: allowing the champion of the host nation play in the tournament dilutes the quality of the competition, especially when it is held in places that don’t have strong domestic leagues. Eliminating the host nation entirely would give lesser clubs the opportunity to play in places they never would otherwise and allow the world’s biggest clubs to raise brand awareness across the world.
Finally, the tournament should be dramatically expanded and not seeded. Currently, there are six continental champions, with the South American and European champions looming large over the entire competition. Giving those teams byes into the semifinal round reduces interest in the tournament. Instead, the tournament should have sixteen unseeded teams: the winners and runners-up of each of the continental championships, the previous competition’s winner and runner-up, and the winner and runner-up of the Europa League.
In 2015, the following teams competed in a 10-day long tournament:
- Sanfrecce Hiroshima of Japan (host)
- Auckland City from New Zealand
- Guangzhou Evergrande of China
- TP Mazembe from the Democratic of Congo
- Club América of Mexico
- River Plate of Argentina
- Barcelona of Spain
The teams from Mexico, Congo, China, New Zealand battled it out to face River Plate and Barcelona in the semi-finals.
Under the proposed expansion, these clubs would also have qualified:
- Al-Ahli of United Arab Emirates
- Team Wellington of New Zealand
- Montreal Impact of Canada
- USM Alger of Algeria
- UANL Tigres of Mexico
- Juventus of Italy
- Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk of the Ukraine (Europa League runner-up)
- Sevilla of Spain (Europa League winner)
- Real Madrid of Spain (previous CWC champion)
- San Lorenzo of Argentina (previous CWC runner-up)
In the last week of July, each team would be involved in a single-leg tie with the European clubs unable to face each other and the team from the higher-seeded confederation hosting the match.
In the first and second weeks of August, the eight remaining clubs would play in a two-leg aggregate goal tie. In the third and fourth weeks of August, the four semifinalists would again compete in a two-leg aggregate goal tie.
Coinciding with the beginnings of the European season, in the beginning of September, the final would be hosted by the winner of a coin toss.
Instead of Barcelona winning the cup by defeating River Plate after each only played one match, the tournament could have looked like this (randomly generated by names in a hat and coin flips):
- Barcelona v Auckland City
- Juventus v Guangzhou Evergrande
- Dnipro v Al-Ahli
- Sevilla v Team Wellington
- Real Madrid v Montreal Impact
- River Plate v USM Alger
- San Lorenzo v UANL Tigres
- Club America v TP Mazembe
- Barcelona v Dnipro
- Guangzhou Evergrande v Club America
- Real Madrid v River Plate
- Sevilla v UANL Tigres
- Barcelona v Club America
- River Plate v Sevilla
- Club America v Sevilla
Highlights of the first round would have included Tigres of Liga MX traveling to Argentina to play San Lorenzo and the Montreal Impact playing Real Madrid at the Bernabéu. In the second round, highlights would include Real Madrid playing River Plate at El Monumental in Buenos Aires, Tigres heading to Spain to face Sevilla, and Club America traveling to China.
Sure, the semi-finals ended up with two European clubs, an Argentine club and a Mexican club, but these clubs would have traveled the world to get to the semifinals, raising brand and football awareness in every corner of the globe. What better way to increase the profile of the beautiful game than by having its giants travel the world promoting it?