Pep Guardiola loves the Club World Cup but struggling Man City could maybe do without it – and FIFA’s revamped tournament is even more inconvenient and will alienate top clubs

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There is a tendency in European football for turning your nose up at the Club World Cup, but Pep Guardiola has always respected the competition. The Catalan ranks Barcelona’s triumph over Estudiantes in the 2009 final as one of the best moments of his career, and burst into tears when Lionel Messi clinched their 2-1 victory in extra-time after Pedro had snatched an 89th-minute equaliser.

It meant Barca had become the only team ever to win all six trophies they had entered in one year, and Guardiola hailed the achievement as “unthinkable”. Guardiola and Barca also took the competition seriously in 2011, beating Neymar’s Santos 4-0.

Manchester City cannot match Barca’s clean sweep in this year’s Club World Cup as they were beaten in the Community Shield by Arsenal, but they can still round off an incredible 2023 with a fifth trophy. And Guardiola was being sincere when, even after City’s chastening 2-2 draw against Crystal Palace, he said he was looking forward to heading to Saudi Arabia to play for the right to be crowned champions of the world.

“We love to go to play the Club World Cup,” he said. “To go there you have to win the Champions League. I’m very pleased and excited to go there to try and win it. Of course, it’s nice. Years ago we could not imagine to be there and we are there.”

Despite Guardiola’s words, whether flights halfway across the world and two games in 30-plus degree temperatures is quite what a City team that has won just one of their last six Premier League games needs heading into the busy Christmas period is up for debate. But if you think this version of the tournament is inconvenient, then FIFA’s plans for the future are something to behold.

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    Last of its kind

    Guardiola’s enthusiasm for the Club World Cup is unusual in Europe and especially in England, but not in the rest of the world. While only a few hundred City fans will make the journey to the Gulf nation for their semi-final against Urawa Reds on Tuesday and Friday’s potential final, thousands of supporters of Copa Libertadores champions Fluminense have made the 10,000 kilometre journey from Rio de Janeiro to Jeddah to follow their side in their maiden bid to become champions of the world.

    Fluminense are keeping up a long tradition of South American clubs taking a mass following to the tournament: River Plate brought 20,000 fans to Tokyo in 2015 when they faced Barcelona, while Corinthians, the last non-European team to win the trophy in 2012, brought an even greater number of fans to see their unexpected triumph over Chelsea.

    African Champions League holders Al Ahly have also brought a large number of followers from Egypt over and they were rewarded when they saw their side knock out Karim Benzema’s Al-Ittihad.

    But the whole reason Guardiola and so many others love the tournament is about to disappear. This year’s Club World Cup will be the last of its kind before FIFA’s revamp begins. It will destroy the very essence of the competition and further increase the load on players, while cementing Europe’s domination over the rest of the world.

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      Increase in teams

      City are one of seven teams competing in Saudi Arabia, but in 2025, the competition will be massively expanded to 32 teams. Instead of lasting 10 days, it will last a whole month, from June 15 to July 13.

      The first edition will be held in the United States and will undoubtedly be a huge spectacle. But European clubs will dominate the tournament from start to finish, accounting for 12 of the 32 teams. And if we’re being honest, they are likely to dominate the knockout stages, too.

      City are already guaranteed their place in 2025 after winning the 2023 Champions League, and will be joined by Chelsea and Real Madrid (winners in 2021 and 2022, respectively).

      They will be joined by Bayern Munich, Benfica, Inter, Porto and Paris Saint-Germain, who qualify due to their place in UEFA’s four-year coefficient ranking. A further three sides will qualify for finishing in the top eight of the same rankings, although there is a maximum of two teams from each country, while the 2024 European Cup winners will also be there.

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        Making a mockery of meritocracy

        In other words, the qualifying process for the 2025 World Cup makes a mockery of the whole concept of the tournament, which was set up to bring together the champions of each continent. Now you can qualify for being utterly mediocre in international competitions. As things stand, Juventus would qualify, even though they are placed 14th in UEFA’s four-year ranking.

        The Bianconeri are not playing in Europe this season after being docked Serie A points for breaking Italy’s financial rules, and have not reached the Champions League semi-finals since 2017.

        Benfica, who are guaranteed their place, have famously not won a European trophy since former manager Bela Guttman placed a curse on them in 1962 for sacking him. Red Bull Salzburg are also in line to qualify, even though they have only once reached the last 16 of the Champions League.

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        Another drain on players

        The expanded Club World Cup will naturally increase the burden on players who are already being pushed to the limits by an utterly relentless calendar. The chaos caused by Covid-19 forced players to squeeze multiple matches into one week, and then things were made even worse by the 2022 World Cup, which came little more than a year after the rescheduled European Championship and Copa America, and was crammed into the middle of the club season.

        Exhausted players got a much-needed break last summer, although even that was mitigated by Nations League and international qualifiers that continued until late June.

        There will be no let up now until 2027 due to next year’s European Championship and Copa America, the expanded Club World Cup in 2025 and then the World Cup in 2026, which will involve 48 teams and an extra round of games, with the finalists playing eight matches. The Champions League is also being expanded to 36 teams from next season, meaning there will be an extra 64 matches.

        Matches are also much longer now than just a few years ago due to increased stoppage-time, which became normalised at the 2022 World Cup.

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