Gill sees big future for Club World Cup

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The Independent Football

Manchester United chief executive David Gill is convinced the Club World Cup will eventually grow into a major event in football's global calendar.

Although United received their usual enthusiastic welcome when they touched down in Tokyo earlier today, there is little appetite worldwide for the seven-team tournament - which Sir Alex Ferguson's men are looking to win in its present form for the first time.

Certainly the Premier League have not exactly made things easy for the Red Devils, who were in domestic action at Tottenham on Saturday evening and will also be required to visit Stoke for a lunchtime kick-off on Boxing Day.

It does not offer much time to overcome the obvious effects of jet-lag on both legs of the journey.

But Gill feels the competition will increase its profile as the years go on, in much the same way as the European Cup emerged from humble beginnings to become currently the most important club game on the fixture list.

"You have to start somewhere," said Gill.

"Who is to say what this tournament will look like in 40 years? Over time, I am sure it will be recognised as a competition of major significance.

"When the European Cup was set up no one thought much about it - as evidenced by the FA, who would not let Chelsea go into it.

"Football is improving throughout the world - particularly in Asia, where their confederation is investing in their championship and improving the quality of their teams.

"It will be well-organised, and everyone at Manchester United is taking it very seriously. It is a very prestigious competition that will only get bigger.

"Yes, it impacts on our season - but we are delighted to be in here."

That view contrasts sharply with the one that accompanied United's trip to Brazil in 2000 for the unfortunate forerunner of the current competition.

For a start, the Red Devils have not been forced to pull out of the FA Cup because of their demanding fixture schedule - although the solution, where three of the seven teams had been eliminated before Ferguson and his men even set foot on Japanese soil, is hardly ideal either.

With the exception of Ben Foster, who has pulled out with a hand injury, Ferguson brought all his internationals -having originally hinted he would leave some behind in England to prepare to face Stoke.

It meant a star-studded first training session at the Marinos Town sports complex barely four hours after their arrival, although there was a minor hitch when it was discovered the organisers had failed to bring - as requested - any footballs to the stadium, triggering a hasty search to find some more.

Ferguson seemed in relaxed mood as he signed autographs for supporters eager to catch a glimpse of their idols.

Given the vast support United enjoy in these parts, they could quite easily have the majority behind them in the Nissain Stadium on Thursday, even though their semi-final opponents are J.League challengers Gamba Osaka.

"I would hope we get a lot of support, because we have a big following in Japan, and I am sure they will want to see us," said Gill.

"This is a proper, competitive match as well.

"Don't forget we started on this journey in August 2006, when we tried to qualify for the Champions League.

"After all that, to be called world champions would be a great achievement and very satisfying."

Aside from flaws in the competition's structure, the presence of a team from Ecuador as South America's representatives is slightly underwhelming.

Whereas United would normally expect to be facing one of the giants from Brazil or Argentina, this time LDU Quito will be in Sunday's final - providing they overcome Pachuca, of Mexico, in Wednesday's semi-final.

"Possibly having no team from Brazil or Argentina changes the dynamic of the tournament, but Quito have got in there on merit," said Gill.

"They could argue the competition has lost its lustre because there is no team from Spain or Italy in it.

"They must have done something right; otherwise they would not be here. I am sure Sir Alex and his guys will do their homework and be ready for the challenge, if and when it arrives."