World Cup V UEFA Champions League: Which Is Better?

With the next World Cup due to begin in June of this year the debate as to whether the UEFA Champions League is better than the World Cup has livened up.

The Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho recently said that the Champions League is now better than the World Cup because the teams in it are at a higher level than the national teams who can’t buy the best players. The former Manchester United manager, Sir Alex Ferguson agrees with him.

There is some bias in this statement and it is self-serving since Europeans have for a long time tried to convince the world that Europe plays the best soccer.

I disagree with Mourinho because a comparison between the two competitions and a look at the figures refute his argument.

First- Standard of Play – European clubs have the best players, but so too does the World Cup. But soccer is a game and the team with the best players is not necessarily the best team.

The best evidence we have is the Club World Cup when the winner of the Champions League competes against the champions from other confederations and here the Europeans have only won 5 out of 9 tournaments.

The World Cup and the Champions League both have strong teams and teams with weak squads. But the former has a higher standard of soccer because it has all of the best players who play for their respective nations with each country having its own style of playing. The teams play with a deep commitment to the flag knowing that the best accomplishment is to win the trophy and be crowned the best in the world.

On the other hand in the Champions League teams are a mixture of players from different countries with different styles of playing and the players have no connection to the club that they represent except for a contract and you can always just move on to a new club in the next season.

For example, with Brasil Neymar plays a free flowing style with freedom to roam all over the field. But when he plays for Barcelona he is stuck on the wing and relegated to assisting Messi and so is less effective.

Second, Universal v City Based – the World Cup encompasses the entire world including over 200 countries across Europe, Africa, North and South America, Asia and Oceana. It showcases the different styles of soccer as it is played around the world which adds to its competitiveness and color.

In furtherance of this, FIFA is now planning to expand the tournament to guarantee underrepresented areas such as the Caribbean Football Union’s region and Oceana, a full berth in the tournament.

In contrast, the Champions League is limited to just 32 cities in Europe and where fan support is largely confined to the city where the club is based.

Third, Popularity – Because of its universality the World Cup is much more popular. So the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was watched in every nation and territory in the world, including Antarctica and the Arctic Circle and was seen by 3.2 billion people or 46.4% of the world’s population. The final game was seen by 909.6 million viewers (or over a billion if those watching outside their homes in bars and pubs were included).

The Champions League does not even come close to those figures. A mere 150 million watched last season’s final game (or 360 million if those outside their homes are included) (Bleacher Report – Why The World Cup Will Always Be Bigger Than the Champions League, by Sam Pilger, Februsry 26, 2014).

Fourth, More Than a Game -:

(a) World Cup.

Unlike the Champions League the World Cup is more than a game. It is more than about just winning and losing.

It unites countries and cultures (white and black in South Africa, Serbs and Croats in Bosnia) and it is for many countries the only opportunity to give their nation any recognition in the eyes of the world.

The event creates heroes and villains so for example players who won the World Cup in 1966 are still heroes in England and you don’t get that status by winning the Champions League.

It leaves lasting memories such as watching the skills and artistry of the great Pele in 1970, Socrates in 1982 and Maradona in 1986.

The group stages of the World Cup are better than the Champions League because they have more drama as a team must win at least one game and can only lose one in order to qualify for the next round.

World Cup fever for the coming tournament has started to build up. Already a day-to-day countdown has started. Players dread injury that could rule them out and feel great pride to put on the national team shirt as illustrated by the enthusiasm with which some of them sing their national anthem before a game. This cannot be matched by the Champions League anthem.

In 1 month every 4 years all people and cultures from around the entire world converge on one host country where the games are played in a carnival type atmosphere and the 90 minutes of soccer is just a part of the spectacle.

The World Cup can also bestow far reaching political benefits.

In the case of the 2018 World Cup to be held in Russia, a country caught between the old world of the cold war and the new, the event is expected to welcome Russia and to open it up to the new world.

Qatar, which is to host the 2022 tournament is hoping to use it to streamline its economy to face a post oil and gas world and show that the Middle East is not just a region of instability.

(b) Champions League.

It is all about money. A long drawn out tournament which extends for 10 months of the year in order to make money; most of the games are easily forgettable as there are so many weak teams such as FC Basel or CSKA Moskva.

Every year the same top 10 clubs reach the quarter finals as the gulf between them and the rest is vast and so it is reduced to a contest between one rich club against a richer one. In the 2011 final mega-billionaire Roman Abramovich’s Chelsea was amusingly referred to as the underdogs against the mighty Bayern Munich.

CONCLUSION

The World Cup is better than the Champions League because the standard of play is higher, it is more popular and it is more than just a game with more to offer.

A 2006 poem’s preview of a World Cup tournament describes its impact as follows:

It Closes The Shops,

Closes The Schools,

Closes A City,

Stops A War

Fuels A Nation

Breaks The Boarders

Builds A Hero

Crushes A Dream

Answers A Prayer

And Changes The World

(Soccer Lens – Why the World Cup is better than the Champions League, by Abe Asher, October 24, 2013).

The difference between the two competitions is best described by Roy Hodgson, the current England manager when he said «I think that most players at the end of their careers would say going to the World Cup was their best moment. Not many will be saying it was playing in the group stages of the Champions League against Standard Liege on a Wednesday night» (Bleacher Report, Why The World Cup Will Always Be Bigger Than the Champions League etc.).

That is why the World Cup is more than a game and is the ultimate soccer event.

Victor A. Dixon

March 21, 2014

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