After their dismal performance in the Club World Cup in Japan, Ahly return to Cairo with tails between their legs. The great prediction of reaching the final and a possible showdown with Manchester United fizzled into a pathetic sixth place finish. So bad were Ahly that their much boasted 101-year-old history meant little after going down to Adelaide which was founded five years ago.
If it s any solace to Ahly and their fans, the CWC still cannot claim to be the grand football championship its sponsors tout it to be. Despite its many reincarnations, the constant changing of its name and its expansion from two to seven teams encompassing the continents, it has yet to generate any real passion, excitement or interest.
The CWC could easily rival and in fact surpass the World Cup in popularity because fidelity to club is often so much stronger than to country and because the frenzied millions who root for European teams are not just Europeans but span the globe.
But the CWC is nothing compared to the World Cup. For one, it s always played in Japan and you cannot spread the popularity of a championship if it’s played every year in the same place. The World Cup changes venues every four years. So does the Olympics. The European Champions League is held in a different city annually. Japan has slightly eased its hammerlock on the CWC, agreeing that it be staged in the UAE for the next two years, but in 2011 it s back to Japan.
The tournament is also too short – just eight days and seven matches. Unlike the World Cup which is one month and more than 50 games, and the African Cup of Nations which runs three weeks, the CWC is over before you know it. There is no build up, of either excitement or anticipation. When was the last time you saw a football tournament in which a club s first game is already a semi-final and one win propels you to the final?
It’s not fair that European and South American teams have a bye, and then waltz straight into the semis. They watch merrily on the sidelines as the have-nots battle for the right to meet them.
Nor is the CWC a true representative of the globe. True, it has come a long way since just two teams contested for the title; the best from Europe against the best South America has to offer. But the present seven teams, though representing every continent, are not enough, nor are they the world’s six best teams. You simply cannot say with a straight face that Ahly are the sixth best team in the world. What you should say is Ahly finished sixth in a seven-team international soccer competition. And they are not the same thing. If they were, then Ahly are better than Real Madrid, Barcelona, Chelsea, Liverpool, AC Milan, Juventus . should we continue?
Europe also does not take the CWC seriously. South Americans view it as the ultimate club contest made specifically to beat the Europeans who make much more money and are much more famous. But Bayern Munich, Nottingham Forest and Ajax Amsterdam bypassed the chance to participate in the CWC in the 1970s because with so much riding on the matches, passions on and off the pitch flared. European sides thus have come to regard the CWC as more trouble than it’s worth.
Because the West is not interested, and Europe is football s biggest market, its media are not overwhelming us with CWC news. No extensive media coverage means the public is “underwhelmed.
Naturally, those who participate in the CWC will tell you how important it is. But its importance, at least in Egypt, can be measured by who is not playing in it. Last year, because no Egyptian club was involved, hardly any Egyptian followed its proceedings. But even though Egypt hardly ever qualifies for the World Cup, we still eagerly await each and every World Cup.
The CWC is awash with problems: It s played in the middle of a fixture pile up in January; Japan is in an unfriendly time zone; and increasing the number of teams meant adding part-time clubs which produce mismatches. The tournament only gets going with the entry of clubs from South America and Europe.
One thing you can t take away from the CWC is its financial rewards. To the winner goes $5 million. But Ahly, our sixth place finisher, are not forgotten; they will pocket $1 million. The winner of the African Champions League also gets $1 million but must play 14 matches and win the title. In Japan, all you have to do is play two matches and lose them both to pick up the same million. Not bad for a couple of days work at the office.