Cities across the world will be in the midst of a soccer craze. Throughout June and July, bars and local pubs will hit capacity, the streets filled with passionate supporters, and plastic flags will be blowing in the wind.
Yes, it’s World Cup year.
Every four years, FIFA’s illustrious tournament brings people in unison to enjoy the global game. Hearts are broken, stars are born, and one country will gasp in glory –– obtaining bragging rights as World Champion for the ensuing four years.
This is arguably the ultimate sporting event.
In 2010, 700 million viewers tuned into the World Cup finals between Spain and Holland, while approximately 3.2 billion watched at least one match in the tournament.
In a few weeks, eyes worldwide will be set on Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. It’s not like the duo are unfamiliar with the attention, but the increased expectancy to dominate in Brazil will be instilled, especially with both failing to match irrational targets for their national squads in previous years.
The two superstars are undeniably the best players of our generation; some can argue that they will be the best to ever play the game. Their consistency, goals per-game ratio, and ability to perform under heaps of pressure are astonishing for their clubs, but many have harshly lambasted the duo for lesser performances on the international stage.
The World Cup may be the largest sporting event based on viewership, but is it still the pinnacle soccer event?
Currently, top players in the past who have claimed World Cup success are put in a separate category to those still searching for international glory. But with the vast changes in the modern game regarding transfer fees, wages, and the physical demands of playing for club and country, players would prefer to prolong their club career, rather than endure a career-impeding burnout.
On average, the top-sides play 50-60 games a season; when you include friendlies and international tournaments, the aforementioned numbers incline. Last season, Chelsea playmaker Oscar played 71 games, and he’s currently featured in 56 since the start of the new campaign. Xavi Hernandez, a key cog in Spain’s international success over the six years, has appeared in a minimum 55 games per season, thus highlighting the physical demands of a modern day soccer player.
With the World Cup held in the summer –– after an excruciating club season –– players enter the tournament fatigued, and often find it difficult to reach their best form. In retrospect, the UEFA Champions League is an 11-month marathon –– when you include the qualifying rounds –– in which teams have an entire season to derive a well thought-out plan to claim European glory and maintain energy levels; simply it’s a larger measuring tool opposed to seven games within a month. Managers are able to turn to the market and build a team that suits their philosophy, whereas international managers are forced to work with the players at their disposal.
Ahead of the 2010 Champions League final between Inter Milan and Bayern Munich, Jose Mourinho stated his thoughts on the European tournament.
“This game is the most important in the world,” Mourinho said. “It is even bigger than the World Cup because the teams in it are at a higher level than national teams, who can’t buy the best players. If you hold it to be important, you have to transmit that to the players.
With that being said, Mourinho’s acknowledgement of the best players featuring in the Champions League was factual. The World Cup’s four-year gap has slowly become a nuisance, opposed to a timely feat focused on the significance of the tournament.
Arsenal manager, Arsene Wenger, also agreed that the Champions League has surpassed the World Cup.
“I always said that club football is better than national team football, by far,” Wenger told Arsenal.com
“You have the best players from any country in the national team. In any big club you have the best players of all the countries in the world. It’s as simple as that.”
This year’s World Cup will be missing a few star performers, which inhibits the overall quality of the tournament. The likes of Gareth Bale, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Robert Lewandowski, David Alaba and Arda Turan won’t feature in Brazil this summer, yet the aforesaid men were prominent figures in the Champions League knockout rounds.
The average career of a professional soccer player has decreased over the years, which explains why many have focused on achieving European glory.
Now the best players are moving to the biggest clubs in the world to increase their chances of winning the Champions League; the tournament has slowly become a goal that every player aspires to achieve.
In the past, former Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, shared his thoughts on the rise of the Champions League.
“The Champions League is the best competition in the world now, better than the World Cup, better than the European Championships; it’s a fantastic tournament,” Ferguson said.
“Have you seen the last six World Cups? It is better going to the dentist, I suppose.”
While both tournaments are a drab during the group-stages, there’s a vast difference between the two in the knockout rounds. The Champions League two-legged knockout set-up enables a variety of approaches, and challenges managers tactically, especially with the away goal rule.
The World Cup, on the other hand, has faced its critics in the past due to amount of conservatism in the latter stages. Look no further than Spain’s success under Vicente del Bosque –– they have yet to concede in the knockout round during his reign, and average a solitary goal per game. Del Bosque’s approach is logical, but in terms of overall quality and excitement their fixtures have been tedious.
Ronaldo and Messi have already achieved European glory –– the former once, while the latter has claimed three –– and despite not replicating their imperious form on an international stage, both men have produced sensational performances on numerous occasions. If they continue to maintain the consistency that’s elevated them into elite players, there’s no question that the duo will be put in the same conversation as Diego Maradona and Pele, regardless of their international shortcomings.
Perhaps the World Cup may be the largest sporting event in the world, but it is no longer soccer’s most prestigious tournament.
The Champions League provides a platform for the best players and managers to showcase their talents on a yearly basis to a global audience. The level of play is higher, the best players feature on a consistent basis, and the competition is stiff.
The days of defining a player’s career based on their international success are over.