Every year the FIFA Club World Cup brings together the continental champions from across the world to claim the title of ‘world champions’. To those unfamiliar with the competition, you may think that being crowned world champions sounds like the biggest honour a club could possibly strive for. Until we start having intergalactic competitions, being the number one side on Earth is as good as it gets.
While this is very much true on the international football stage, where the World Cup is the most prestigious competition out there, the Club World Cup does not carry anything like the same status. The fact that we are discussing if winning it actually means anything really shows you how far it is from being the holy grail of club football.
That said, how important the Club World Cup is does differ depending on where you are. There are parts of the world that take the competition very seriously, where fans would absolutely love to see their team lift the trophy. You cannot say this about the entire planet though because in Europe, the Club World Cup is often not even considered a major piece of silverware and is sometimes even viewed as an unwanted distraction.
Club World Cup Overview
Before going into how important the Club World Cup is perceived to be, let us give a quick run-through of how it works (or rather how it worked, as it is undergoing huge changes in 2025). Founded in 2000, the knockout competition has usually combined the reigning champions of the following competitions:
- AFC Champions League (Asia)
- CAF Champions League (Africa)
- CONCACAF Champions Cup (North, Central America and Caribbean)
- CONMEBOL Libertadores (South America)
- OFC Champions League (Oceania)
- UEFA Champions League (Europe)
- League winner of host nation
Before 2025, the league champions of the host nation would normally play the OFC champion in the first round. The winner would then progress to the second record where they would be joined by the AFC, CAF and CONCACAF champions. Two knockout matches would take place here with the winners then joining the CONMEBOL and UEFA champions in the semi-finals. The winner of each clash would progress to play the final while the losers would go into a third-place match.
Having a short tournament featuring just seven matches seemed to work reasonably well but FIFA’s unquenchable thirst for making tournaments bigger will impact the 2025 edition onwards. Rather than its usual seven teams, the 2025 Club World Cup will feature 32 nations in an attempt to give it greater status. To accommodate all the extra fixtures, the tournament has also been moved to the northern hemisphere summer, where it will run for 29 days. Additionally, rather than being an annual affair, it will now only take place every four years.
The new format will include current and previous continental champions plus other teams based on their four-year continental ranking.
The Rest of the World View
For most of the world, the Club World Cup is a relatively big deal because it gives clubs from smaller footballing nations an opportunity to perform on a relatively big stage. This explains why many teams from the likes of Asia and Africa get excited about playing some other regional champions. It does not explain though why South America, with its long and deep footballing heritage, takes the competition so seriously.
For this, there are a few reasons. Firstly, Brazilian clubs won the first three editions of the tournament, which helped fuel that initial interest. Secondly, Club World Cups have typically taken place during the South American off-season, meaning there is no other football to offer a distraction. This also means the club (or clubs) involved have been able to commit to it without worrying too much about injury and/or fatigue. Lastly, you could point to the sheer passion of the South American football fans and their desire to win every single piece of silverware possible.
The European View
When it comes to being bothered about the Club World Cup, Europe is the main exception. This is not to say European fans are totally uninterested and view it as a waste of time, but it is something they generally do not pay much attention to. When ranking trophies in order of importance, it is very common to see European fans place it below a domestic cup competition. For them, it is not a great deal more important than a popular pre-season tournament.
While fans do take a relatively lowly view of the competition though, European clubs that take part seem a bit more engaged (at least publicly). When Pep Guardiola’s Man City were preparing for the event in 2023, the Spaniard said, “We love to go to play the Club World Cup… I’m very pleased and excited to go there to try and win it. Of course, it’s nice.” When City did indeed go on to win it, their players celebrated enthusiastically after a committed effort in the final.
It is hard to read too much into this though as it’s just standard PR to big up a competition you are involved in. The Spaniard also considered the Community Shield to be a worthwhile trophy (when speaking in 2019) even though most fans view it as a glorified friendly with no real significance. Celebrating a trophy passionately also means very little. Footballers are competitive by nature so of course they are going to be happy about winning. This does not mean any of them will list a Club World Cup win as one of their career highlights though.
Why Does Europe Not Care About The Club World Cup?
There are a few reasons why Europe holds a much lower view of the Club World Cup than the rest of the world. These reasons are based on how the tournament has operated for most of its history. Perhaps the 2025 changes will change the situation but so far it seems to have attracted criticism mainly due to fears players are being overworked.
It’s Too Predictable
Man City’s victory in 2011 made it 11 consecutive wins for the UEFA representatives. Corinthians’ victory over Chelsea in 2012 is the only time a non-European side has won the Club World Cup since 2006. It is just an expectation that the European side will win the Club World Cup, making it little more than a formality.
It Only Takes Two Games To Win
Qualifying for the Club World Cup is extremely difficult but once here European clubs do not have to do very much to win another trophy. Two victories are all that is needed and it is hard to get too excited over winning just two matches. It is the same reason why competitions such as the Super Cup and Community Shield are not highly regarded either. Getting there is very challenging but for the clubs that do make it, they only have to win one game to get another trophy.
The Competition Is Weak
European clubs care far more about winning the Champions League or their domestic league because they are much more of a challenge. Beating some club from Africa with one-tenth of the budget or a team from Asia that only has big names nearing retirement does not hit the same. Even beating the champions of the Libertadores, the team that most often makes it to the final, is not seen as a notable achievement.
This is largely because European football has so much more financial firepower than that of South America. When Man City hammered Flamengo 4-0 in the 2023 final, their record transfer at the time was the £100m paid for Jack Grealish. The Brazilians, by contrast, had not spent more than €18m (£15.5m) on a player before, something City had done 50 times previously.
To summarise in a few words, winning the Club World Cup means very little in Europe but this is not a feeling shared elsewhere in the world. Increasing the size of the tournament and making it less frequent (starting in 2025) may help boost its reputation within Europe but there is a danger that managers, concerned about overworking players, do not take it overly seriously.