Barcelona provided some sumptuous entertainment on the way to claiming the Club World Cup title, and Kashiwa Reysol also benefited from the tournament. The real winners were Fifa though…
At the start of the season I wrote in this column that I was pleased to see Kashiwa Reysol back in J1, ending with the line, “One thing’s for certain; with Kashiwa back in the mix 2011 will be kept interesting. The future’s bright.”
Little did I know back then just how brightly the Sun Kings would shine. As well as becoming the first ever side to claim back-to-back J2 and J1 championships they also earned the rare opportunity to take part in the Club World Cup – with their momentum taking them all the way to an exciting semi-final against Santos.
Speaking after their qualifying victory against Auckland City, captain Hidekazu Otani – one of the unsung heroes of the team – epitomised the spirit behind Reysol’s success.
“It’s not just about participating, but the whole team feels that we want to leave a good result,” he said.
“The experience of every single match in this competition is valuable to all the players and the team.”
His coach Nelsinho agreed, reflecting on the growth of his side after they secured their place in the quarter-finals against Monterrey.
“My players now have more confidence, they are more mature. We have won J2 and, by taking it step by step J1 as well. By winning this game, we have more experience”
I have absolutely no doubt about that but, while the competition does provide a fantastic experience for clubs such as Reysol, I have to admit that I see it as little more than a charade to make FIFA even more money.
With the greatest respect to the likes of Auckland City – who, let’s not forget, are an amateur club – they don’t represent anything like the best teams in the world, and to suggest anything otherwise hints at either ignorance, stupidity or lies (none of which are particularly alien to the world’s governing body, of course).
Myself and a fellow English journalist (Ben Mabley of Football Japan) discussed the pros (mainly Ben) and cons (mainly me) of the tournament ahead of the kick-off, and while I agreed that, in principal, it was a good idea, in practice it just doesn’t work.
The concept of a tournament to determine the true ‘Best Club in the World’ is great on paper, but economic factors mean that each of the continental champions comes into the competition on a hugely different footing.
Regardless of whether they won the competition or not, we all know that Barcelona are the best team out there, and aside from yet another El Clasico against Real Madrid we’re hard pushed for someone to really challenge them for that crown.
The closest side from outside of Europe to being able to do that is probably Copa Libertadores champions Santos.
In his welcome address in the official programme for the Club World Cup (￥3,000 each – ‘For the game. For the World’), Kazu touched upon that fact – while at the same time performing perhaps the biggest name-drop I have ever seen.
“During a conversation with Pele the other day,” Kazu began, “he commented that, “People continually ask me about a game between Santos FC and FC Barcelona, but who said they will be in the final?””
Kazu then continued, “You could say there is a gulf in quality between the continents, but the gap has been narrowing in recent years. The will to win is universal and there is an equal chance for every team.”
Ben made a similar point, and while Reysol’s efforts against Santos were impressive I’m still not convinced.
Everybody in the build-up to the competition wanted to see the Catalans (and Messi) square off against the Brazilians (and Neymar) in the final, so what would have made more sense (but less money) would have been to skip straight to a game between those two sides – as was the case until the Intercontinental Cup came to an end in 2004.
I’m all for trying to improve the overall level of the game around the world, but rather than just giving the African, American, Asian and Oceanian champions the chance to swap shirts with a celebrity player, FIFA could perhaps try and focus its efforts on distributing and regulating the obscene amounts of money in the game a bit better in order to create a more even playing field.