Later today Manchester United take on Gamba Osaka in the Club World Cup semi-final. That should be a massive game but does anybody really care what the outcome is? IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m sure it is a big game for the Japanese club and for all those supporters of the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœ39th gameÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ idea, it will show just how popular the Premier League teams can be on other continents.
Manchester United boss Sir Alex Ferguson has tried to tell people how important the game is, but murmurings from the players and statements from the fans suggest that there are few at Manchester United who believe what Sir Alex has been saying.
“It’s a big incentive to become world champions. In 30 years’ time you look back and say ‘Manchester United – world champions’ – to me that is what our club’s about. The media don’t take it as seriously as we do. It’s an extra game for us but the prestige attached to the competition now is greater.”
The timing of the tournament has also caused some concern to UnitedÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s players and supporters. A long trip to Japan and two matches in four days, just a few days before two crucial Premier League games in three days over Christmas seems to put unnecessary strain on the players.
Fergie was equally dismissive over the complaints surrounding the timing of the trip,
“You can’t win the Premier League in December. Yes, it’s a little bit of a handicap, but that’s what happens when you’re successful. I hope we’re in Abu Dhabi next year because it means we’re successful.”
United are in third place in the league some six points behind Liverpool and five behind Chelsea. That could have increased to nine points and eight points by the time they play their next game.
First British team
Sir Alex is keen to make history in the tournament and become the first British team to win the club world cup. Their previous attempt to win it in 2000 was pretty much an unmitigated disaster. Having pulled out of the FA Cup, much to the disgust of most in England, they travelled to Rio where a disappointing draw which saw David Beckham sent off, a defeat and a meaningless victory led to their elimination from the tournament.
Following the bad press and controversy that tournament in 2000 caused, Fifa didnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t run the tournament again until 2005. That year Sao Paulo beat Liverpool. In the next two finals Internacional of Brazil and AC Milan have lifted the trophy at the expense of Barcelona and Boca Juniors.
For Fergie the desire to win is heightened by the fact that victory in this tournament would mean that he had won every club prize he could possibly win as a club manager. That would be a remarkable record and seal his place as one of the great managers the game has seen.
If United manage to beat Gamba Osaka they will play either Pachuca of Mexico or Liga De Quito from Ecuador in the final on Sunday. If they lose, they will play a third and fourth place play off game on the same day.
For todayÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s game, Dimitar Berbatov is unlikely to play as he has been suffering from a virus and Wayne Rooney, who has a slight knock, and Carlos Tevez are expected to start up front.
Paul Scholes will almost certainly start his first game since having an operation on his knee in September and he will be joined by the experience of Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs. Cristiano Ronaldo will also be in the starting line-up.
For anyone who is interested in the game, it kicks off today at 10.30 GMT. Fergie has already said that the biggest difficulty his players face is in getting their body clocks adjusted to local time. They have been in Japan since Monday so hopefully they will have overcome any difficulties that may have caused.
It should be a great occasion, the Club World Cup, but it simply fails to capture the imagination. Fifa must surely look at the competition and make a careful assessment of the good it does. If the competition is relatively meaningless and it adds to the fixture congestion, then what is the point of continuing with it?
List the winners
I think I am a fairly big footy fan, but until reading it the other day I couldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t have told you that Milan are the holders or that they beat Boca Juniors in the final. I could list the winners and runners-up in the Champions League, European Championships and World Cups for the last several years. That just shows how little this tournament means.