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The ‘Q’-word – looking back on the Club World Cup

17 Mar 2009(Tue)

As unlikely as its achievement may indeed remain, the word ‘quintuple’ has been a new addition to the lexicon of many British football supporters this season due to its ever more ubiquitous presence in any reference to Manchester United’s potential trophy haul. Once upon a time, winning the league and FA Cup in the same season was known as the ‘elusive Double’, though the rarity of this feat has decreased dramatically since United and Arsenal managed it five times between them in just nine seasons (1993/94 to 2001/02). Even the Treble, though – in its truest sense – has only yet been secured by an English side once, while talk of potential Quadruples generally only arises in short-lived hyperbole, and rarely gives Celtic fans much cause to worry that anyone else in the world might equal what their team managed back in 1967.


But now, with the Club World Cup and the League Cup already in the bag for United, talk turns to a possible five trophies and this favourite new word, the Quintuple. In truth, though, the term has only really enjoyed common acceptance for about a month, as even into February, pundits and fans continued to refer to a potential Quadruple with equal or greater frequency. Even now that the other ‘Q’-word has begun to take precedence, scepticism over its meaning remains rife amongst non-United fans. If we’re going to count ‘that trophy they won in Japan’, why not count the Community Shield and pre-season friendlies as well?


Similar opinions have also been expressed in the British sporting media. Even at the time, UK newspapers and broadcasters gave the Club World Cup little priority, and damningly (if partially excused by the number of times it has changed), few commentators ever seem to refer to the competition by its correct name. On one of The Times’ football podcasts in late 2007, Gabriele Marcotti and Guillem Balague mourned the lack of coverage of Milan’s 4-2 win over Boca Juniors, and while this inferred a greater interest in the Club World Cup elsewhere in Europe, few British journalists seemed to share their view.


At the very least, though, United fans do seem to have embraced the competition. This is obviously much easier to do now the trophy is safely in the cabinet, but ever since winning the European Cup became an obsession for Matt Busby in the 1950s and 60s, United’s desire to buck established trends and seek new frontiers has been a source of pride to the supporters. The circumstances may have been quite different in 2008, but Sir Alex Ferguson has always been aware of this tradition, and successfully ensured that his players shared his desire not to return home from Yokohama without the cup in their hands. Whatever others may have to say about it, United fans will be proud to wear the World Champions badge on their new replica shirts next season.


Nobody, of course, believes that the Club World Cup will outrank the UEFA Champions League in terms of importance any time soon. Some of the criticism stems from the fact that United only had to win two games to be bestowed with the world title, but aside from the strange rule that has allowed Sepahan and Adelaide United to take part as the number two sides in Asia, I happen to think that the format is fine as it is. Two matches are, at least, better than one when it comes to tournament credibility. It might be nice to have even more, but it is hardly realistic to hope that the European teams will happily take further time out of their domestic schedules.


And this, of course, is the key point. Last year’s Club World Cup continues to be referenced in interviews and will forever remain with the players of Gamba Osaka – and, I’m sure, of Liga de Quito and the rest. Clubs throughout Japan have looked on enviously at Gamba and Urawa Reds, and are now striving to up their level and gain their own chance of facing a Manchester United or an AC Milan as continental champions. Eventually, not even that will be enough, and everyone will instead want to be known as the ones who beat the Europeans on the world stage. It is hypocritical of English fans, who bemoan the ever-increasing gap between the Premier League or the big four and the rest, to deny the rest of the world their stage.

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