When Manchester United beat Palmeiras to win the Toyota Cup in Japan in 1999, they were away for six days all in, travelling and playing. When they play the absurd Fifa Club World Cup next month it will be nine days away. As Sir Alex Ferguson knows so well, it is the small things that make the big differences over the course of a season.
The Fifa Club World Cup, conceived out of the embarrassment of the abandoned World Club Championship in which United played in 2000, is another project built on the vanity of Sepp Blatter. Not content with allowing Uefa, with its work on what was once the European Cup, to be the only major governing body which has cocked up a perfectly good cup format, the Fifa president had had a go at it himself and came up with a corker.
This ridiculously bloated competition has taken the place of a perfectly good one-off game – once the Intercontinental Cup, latterly the Toyota Cup. It was simple: the European Cup winners against the winners of the South American equivalent, the Copa Libertadores, which was played, from 1980, in Japan. It was a strange game but pleasingly exotic, given the South American opposition, with a few Japanese quirks thrown in, too. In 1999, Ryan Giggs won the man-of-the-match award – only it was not a bottle of champagne, it was a mid-range Toyota family saloon. Giggs looked at that car as if he would rather walk to training in the rain than sit behind the wheel.
Now the Toyota Cup's replacement is the epitome of Fifa tokenism, too many teams included only on the basis that Fifa and Blatter are in a perpetual grab for power and influence along football's new frontier: the smaller, new federations. The revamped version takes longer and it might not just be coincidental that the three winners so far – Sao Paulo, Internacional (also Brazilian) and Milan – have not gone on to win their domestic leagues that season.
The whole notion of elitism that should accompany a tournament with a title as pompous as the Club World Cup has also been lost. You need look no further than the second appearance this year of Waitakere United, of New Zealand, representing Oceania, who earned their place with a win over a team from the Solomon Islands. In this context Waitakere bring to mind Bret and Jemaine, those two innocent New Zealander musicians who try to make it big in New York in the television comedy Flight of the Conchords and find themselves utterly out of their depth.
Actually to play Manchester United Waitakere would have to beat the Japanese and the Asian representatives (who happen to be from Adelaide in Australia – don't ask). Fifa wants the tiddlers in the competition but it doesn't actually want them to win it. So in a masterful piece of imperialist-style planning it fixes the competition by giving the European and South American clubs byes to the semis. It lets the Africans, the Asians and the Mexicans in at the quarter-final stage while the brave boys from Waitakere have to start one round earlier with a game against the J-League's top team. If it wasn't so preposterous, it would be offensive.
It will come as no surprise that of all three Club World Cup tournaments, which began in 2005, the European and South American sides have met in the final. The token teams from places like Iran, South Korea, Egypt, Tunisia and Costa Rica have turned up, paid lip service to Fifa, pocketed the appearance money and done the decent thing and lost.
It is all very embarrassing but there is no chance of United doing what Nottingham Forest and Liverpool did in the Seventies and Eighties and simply not bother to turn up for the Intercontinental Cup. Nowadays, the money is the clincher, the winner takes home a handy $5m (£3.1m) and even Bret and Jemaine get $500,000 just for rocking up and getting beaten. And with English football now respectfully dropping its trousers every time Fifa asks – in case refusing harms the 2018 World Cup bid – there is no danger of us upsetting them.
Willow wielders follow football tradition of trousering cash
In a return to a topic previously visited by this column – why is it that footballers get so much stick for their wages when there are so many chisellers out there? – we consider England's recently humiliated Twenty20 cricket team (below). The naked greed of the Stanford Super Series seems to have been excused on the basis that English cricketers could not turn down the money. By the same logic, then, why berate footballers for pursuing their market value in the days of the £2.7bn television deal?
Imagine a football match in which the on-screen graphic said: "Need two goals to win $20m." There would be questions tabled in Parliament. Breakfast tables would be thumped all over middle England. But that's exactly what happened in the coverage from Antigua. Here's a radical theory: maybe our cricketers are not any different in their attitude to money than our footballers.
Bully boys get a kick out of Arsenal defeat
Arsenal lose to Stoke City and all the old nonsense comes out, especially from the desperately unimaginative Match of the Day pundits. Arsenal don't like it up 'em. Too soft for the North. Poncy foreigners didn't fancy it on a cold afternoon in November. Good old Stoke.
All failed to mention that the two challenges which put Arsenal players out the game – Ryan Shawcross on Emmanuel Adebayor and Rory Delap on Theo Walcott – were shocking fouls. Both of them potential red cards. Bashing Arsenal may make some feel good about themselves but it ignores the fact that we still have a bullying culture in our football.
Naive Adams has lot to prove on Pompey high street
"I would get on the coaching pitch and – no disrespect to the guys – some of the things I wanted to do ... it was a different type of football," said Tony Adams this week on his experience of managing Wycombe Wanderers. "It's like running a corner shop compared to running Sainsbury's." Yes, Tony, that's why it said "League One" at the top of the table.
Management is as much about getting the best out of players at every level. Not every club can have Dennis Bergkamp in their squad.
The Cardiff clipper
The proximity of the press box to the subs' bench at White Hart Lane has meant the discovery of a remarkable dressing-room secret. Gareth Bale wears a hairclip. Brave man. He would be even braver to wear it on a night out in his native Cardiff.Reuse content