Saturday 13 December ~
You may not have noticed, but the Club World Cup has already kicked off in Japan with a thrilling pan-Oceanic preliminary round clash between the Uniteds of Waitakere and Adelaide. Of course it will only become important when the Real United, from the northern English city of Manchester, fly out on Sunday to grace its later stages after playing Tottenham Hotspur today. And despite earlier intimations, Sir Alex is taking his full squad, having decided that this is a trophy worth having.
“I think we look at this tournament as a platform for players to excel, to express themselves,” enthused the rubicund manager earlier this week. “It is a world championship, and any player who goes into it will want to play the right way and make an impression. To play in a tournament of this stature is wonderful for them.” Which is a far cry from a couple of months back when he said that the team would be leaving some players behind to prepare for the Boxing Day clash at mighty Stoke City. What can have changed his mind?
It could be that, having beaten Stoke 5-0 at Old Trafford last month, he’s decided that a few days in Japan are as good a preparation as any for facing the Rory Delap-fired chucking machine currently masquerading as the Potteries’ top football team. It could be that he sees the trip as a well deserved winter break for his players, and didn’t want to deprive Wayne Rooney of the once-in-a-lifetime chance to visit the Sankeien Japanese Garden or the Shin-Yokohama Ramen Museum, where you can learn “the history of ramen… a dish consisting of wheat-flour noodles served in variously flavoured soups with assorted vegetable or meat toppings.” Perhaps it still rankles that United failed so pathetically the last time they went to a Club World Cup. Or maybe someone in the commercial department with an intimate knowledge of United’s debt level persuaded the manager that this would be a perfect opportunity to promote the global brand, and to do so would require the presence of all major sub-brands (otherwise known as “players”).
Or perhaps he realised that, alongside the League Cup, this would be United’s best chance of winning a trophy this season. With Cristiano Ronaldo now apparently convinced that he just has to show up to be the instant man of the match, even when he’s only in his suit, the team have been in poor form since summer, failing to beat any of the decent teams they’ve played this season - Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Aston Villa or Villareal (twice) - and making hard work of beating some of the less than decent ones. Retaining either the Premier League or the Champions League title looks unlikely on current showings, and although it would be impetuous to write off such a side so early, bringing home the World Club Cup will give the team something to show the Glazers and the sponsors during a possibly otherwise barren season. For a sports team, World Champion is not a bad marketing slogan.
Never mind that to take this title United will have to win only two games, likely against the J-League’s Gamba Osaka and LDU Quito of Ecuador. Never mind that this competition is just Sepp Blatter’s pointless, watered down edition of the FIFA Transcontinental Champions League that he recurrently dreams about in a possibly fervent fashion while tightly wrapped in his satin nightgown. Winning this trophy will be spun as a major triumph, and you can bet that our revered colleagues in the sports media will play their part in dressing it up as an English victory to make us all party like it’s 1966. Which could arguably make the tournament worth following after all. Come on United! Adelaide, that is. Ian Plenderleith