Football Betting

Ben Gray: FIFA’s revamped Club World Cup is a shameless cash grab and will be an unparalleled disaster


On Sunday, while plenty of football was going on (it’s almost as though they wanted to hide this news) FIFA confirmed massive changes to the Club World Cup that had been in the pipeline for many years now.

At the FIFA congress in Saudi Arabia, the FIFA Council unanimously voted to completely overhaul the generally irrelevant competition, surprise surprise.

What’s the opposite to turkeys voting for Christmas metaphor again?

So how will the tournament work? When and where will it take place? Who will qualify and how? Why is this happening? What are the wider ramifications for the game?

When and where is the first expanded FIFA Club World Cup taking place?

The tournament will kick off on 15 June 2025 with the final scheduled for 13 July 2025.

The United States will host the competition, a year before the World Cup goes stateside, essentially filling the void vacated by the Confederations Cup (remember that?) as an amuse bouche to the biggest show on earth.

The host cities and stadiums are yet to be announced; this will be interesting, because it will give us a peek behind the curtain as to what sort of attendances FIFA are expecting.

Just using New Jersey as a microcosm, will they go for MetLife Stadium and it’s enormous 82,500 capacity, or the rather more modest Red Bull Arena, located less than 10 miles away, which has a capacity of 25,000?

The former is a risk, because an overwhelming empty stadium would look terrible, while the latter would be an admission by FIFA that this competition isn’t going to have quite the razzmatazz they might hope.

What is the format of the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup?

Just like the World Cup from 1998-2022, 32 teams will be drawn into eight groups of four, with the top two in each group advancing to the knockout stages.

The round of 16, quarter-finals, semi-finals and final will all be single-elimination knockout ties.

Which clubs will feature? How do teams qualify?

World Cup football

To answer those questions, we need to take it one continent at a time, with the number in brackets indication how many spots each confederation has been allocated.

Just to make the whole process as complicated as possible, it’s worth noting, a maximum of two clubs per country can qualify, unless 3+ teams from the same league win the continental competition.

UEFA (12)

The four UEFA Champions League winners from 2021-2024 will qualify. They are

  • Chelsea (2021 UEFA Champions League winners)
  • Real Madrid (2022 UEFA Champions League winners)
  • Manchester City (2023 UEFA Champions League winners)
  • This season’s Champions League winners (unless Real or Man City win it again).

The other 8/9 spots will be awarded to the club’s with the best four-year UEFA coefficient ranking, based on performances in the Champions League.

The following five clubs are guaranteed qualification:

  • Bayern Munich
  • Paris Saint-Germain
  • Inter Milan
  • Porto
  • Benfica

The following clubs are still in contention via their coefficient ranking unless stated:

  • Atlético Madrid, Barcelona or Real Sociedad (must win this season’s UCL).
  • Borussia Dortmund or RB Leipzig.
  • Napoli, Juventus or Lazio (must win this season’s UCL).
  • RB Salzburg will qualify unless Arsenal, PSV or København win this season’s UCL.

CONMEBOL (6)

  • Palmeiras (2021 Copa Libertadores winners)
  • Flamengo (2022 Copa Libertadores winners)
  • Fluminense (2023 Copa Libertadores winners)
  • 2024 Copa Libertadores winners
  • 2/3 teams with the best four-year ranking

AFC (4)

  • Al-Hilal (2021 AFC Champions League winners)
  • Urawa Red Diamonds (2022 AFC Champions League winners)
  • 2023/24 AFC Champions League winners
  • Team with the best four-year ranking

CAF (4)

  • Al Ahly (2021 & 2023 CAF Champions League winners)
  • Wydad Casablanca (2022 CAF Champions League winners)
  • 2024 CAF Champions League winners
  • Team with best four-year ranking

CONCACAF (5)

  • Monterrey (2021 CONCACAF Champions League winners)
  • Seattle Sounders (2022 CONCACAF Champions League winners)
  • Club León (2023 CONCACAF Champions League winners)
  • 2024 CONCACAF Champions Cup winners
  • 2024 MLS Cup winners - hosts

OFC (1)

  • Auckland City (2023 & 2023 OFC Champions League winners).

Why is the FIFA Club World Cup being revamped?

Well the short answer to that is money.

Under it’s current format, the Club World Cup brings in almost no revenue, with the total prize money up for grabs a measly $16 million, $5 million of which goes to the winners, but this is often a loss-making exercise for FIFA.

During the last four-year financial cycle, 83% of FIFA’s total revenue ($7.568 billion) was earned via the World Cup in Qatar, while last summer’s women’s World Cup brought in a measly $570 million, despite the continued growth of the women’s game.

On the club side, the Club World Cup does nothing for FIFA’s coffers, with only six meaningful matches taking place (we cannot count the fifth-place play-off), with the competition lasting only 10 days.

Most football fans aren’t even aware the Club World Cup is taking place right now (yes really!) and, unless you support a team who regularly features, you’ve probably never watched a Club World Cup match in your life.

The competition happening right now in Saudi Arabia is the 20th edition, first held in 2000, but the Club World Cup has still failed to become part of the public consciousness, especially in the UK and Europe more broadly.

Why will the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup be such a disaster?

Will any clubs benefit from Club World Cup expansion?

In theory, the Club World Cup is a good idea.

The best club teams from all around the world congregating together for a tournament to determine who is the best in the world.

If you were outlining the concept to a non-football fan, they’d think it sounds great, after all football is the world’s game.

But in reality, this utopia does not exist, for so many reasons, meaning this tournament is destine to fail.

I appreciate this is being written from a European-centric viewpoint, and that for clubs who dominate other continents, Al Ahly (Egypt), Auckland City (New Zealand), Monterrey (Mexico), and the big Brasileirão teams, this revamped competition will be great news.

However, this will only increase the discrepancies between the haves and the have-nots in these regions.

Take Al Ahly as an example, they’ve won 11 CAF Champions Leagues, including five of the last 12 titles, with 2025 set to be their 10th Club World Cup appearance since 2005.

For them, the exponentially increased revenue that’ll be coming their way every four years is great news, but it’ll only enhance their dominance both within the Egyptian Premier League but also across the whole of Africa.

European Club World Cup dominance will continue

Another major issue this tournament faces is the complete lack of competitive balance.

Fifteen of the 19 CWCs, to date, have been won by the European representative, including each of the last 10.

Only Brazilian clubs Corinthians (2000 & 2012), São Paulo (2005) and Internacional (2006) have been able to break-up UEFA’s monopolisation, with European teams winning 35 of 39 CWC matches, losing just three.

A tournament cannot be interesting if you already know who’s going to win and this will remain the case, despite the revamped format.

Twelve European teams will be heading stateside in 2025 so, assuming they take it seriously, you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll all reach the round of 16, which’ll simply resemble that of the UEFA Champions League knockout phase, with a few Brasileirão clubs making up the numbers.

We don’t need a tournament where the semi-finalists are Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain, that already exists!

FIFA Club World Cup team selection: what a farce!

Speaking of teams that will feature at the 2025 tournament, the qualification/selection process is honestly farcical, there’s no other word for it. Lets use a few examples to demonstrate this.

Chelsea, currently 10th in the Premier League, have qualified by virtue of winning the Champions League in 2021, doing so 1,478 days prior to this tournament kicking off.

Of the Blues’ 23-man squad in Porto that night, plus manager Thomas Tuchel, only 39-year-old Thiago Silva, Reece James, Ben Chilwell, and unused goalkeeper Kepa Arrizabalaga (currently out on loan) are still employed by the club.

This isn’t just a European issue; the Al-Hilal team that beat Pohang Steelers in the 2021 AFC Champions League Final is now unrecognisable to their current squad, following the huge investment that’s gone into Saudi’s top clubs.

On top of this, due to the tight turnaround, the 2025 Champions League winners will not qualify for that year’s edition, rather the 2029 tournament, which does make logistical sense I guess, but doesn’t really feel like rewarding sporting merit does it?

Setting that aside, okay, as with the current set-up, the winners of all the continental titles qualify, that’s fine, you can get your head around that, that’s easy enough to understand.

It’s the fact the remaining 12-17 spots will be allocated to teams based on coefficient ranking that’s ridiculous.

The regulation that a maximum of two clubs per country can qualify, via the rankings, is probably the right decision, but we’re still surprised FIFA went for this.

At this stage, it’s more likely than not that RB Salzburg will be featuring at the tournament, while Juventus, Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund and 2022 UCL runners-up Liverpool will not.

Since being taken over by Red Bull, the Austrian side have only ever reached the Champions League knockout phase once, this in 2022 when they were smashed 8-2 by Bayern Munich, ending up rock bottom of their group this year.

So, if you’re casually tuning into a Club World Cup game in 2025 and someone asks “RB Salzburg.... how have they qualified?” You can succinctly answer: “Well, they had the best four-year UEFA coefficient ranking of any team not from England, Spain, France, Germany, Italy or Portugal”. That’ll clear it up!

FIFA Club World Cup set for embarrassingly low attendances

Let’s make this clear, many Club World Cup matches in the United States will be well-attended.

Big European teams, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona (should they qualify), regularly play in front of huge crowds during pre-season tours.

284,144 spectators witnesses Real’s four friendlies in the U.S. last July and August, an average of over 71,000 per game, fixtures that took place all over the country in Pasadena, Houston, Arlington and Orlando.

Given that an NFL season runs from September-February, stadium owners will be delighted to host ‘soccer’ matches during their off-season.

But what about other, less glamorous matches?

We don’t want to sound like we’re picking on RB Salzburg, although we kind of are, but how many people in say Miami, Texas or New York are desperate to see the ten-in-a-row Austrian Bundesliga champions.

Just 3,921 attended Salzburg’s most-recent home league game, a 1-0 win over Wolfsberger AC, despite the fact the stadium can hold around 30,000.

Looking at other continents, you would imagine that the South American giants, as well as those from Liga MX, will bring with them decent followings, given the close-proximity.

But what about the rest? Sure, Al-Hilal, Al Ahly, Urawa Red Diamonds and Wydad Casablanca have big followings back home, but how many people will travel from Egypt or Japan for example?

Don’t believe me? Here are some examples of very low attendances at Club World Cup fixtures, the first of which took place as recently as last Friday:

  • 2023 Jeddah: Club León vs Urawa Red Diamonds- 2,225 attendance (9% of stadium capacity).
  • 2022 Abu Dhabi: Monterrey vs Al-Jazira- 892 attendance (6% of stadium capacity).
  • 2017 Al Ain: Al-Jazira vs Auckland City- 4,246 attendance (16% of stadium capacity).
  • 2009 Abu Dhabi: TP Mazembe vs Auckland City - 4,200 attendance (9% of stadium capacity).

In fairness, these minuscule crowds are rarer than we first imagined, but the increase in teams and matches, alongside the introduction of a group stage, will surely only heighten this issue.

FIFA Club World Cup: anyone considered player welfare? Thought not!

The most important issue regarding all of this, which we haven’t even got to yet, is player welfare.

There are simply too many games now, but competitions continue to get bigger and bigger.

In the UEFA Champions League, teams will now play a minimum of 8 games (up from 6) and a maximum of 17 (up from 13).

In North America, the addition of Leagues Cup slap-bang in the middle of the MLS and Liga MX schedule means clubs in those leagues are playing relentlessly.

An MLS team could play as many as 60 matches in 2024, even after the league controversially binned off the U.S. Open Cup.

Fluminense will feature in this year’s Club World Cup Final on Friday, with this the Libertadores’ winners 72nd match of 2023, before the new Cariocão season gets up-and-running again on 17 January.

The expanded Club World Cup in June and July 2025 will be taking place at the same time as the Africa Cup of Nations in Morocco and the CONCACAF Gold Cup, so which takes precedent?

An announcement that went under the radar on Sunday was FIFA launching the new ‘FIFA Intercontinental Cup’ which will start next year.

It will, more or less, use the same format as the current Club World Cup, so they’re not even willing to give that up? Talk about flogging a dead horse!

What is the point of an annual tournament to determine who is the best team in the world, when you also have a quadrennial tournament to determine who is the best team in the world, featuring the exact same teams!?

There is too much football. Fans can’t keep up, broadcast deals are waning and all the players are getting injured.

We have not quite reached the breaking point just yet, but this Club World Cup expansion will accelerate it.

Ben Gray

Ben Gray

Arsenal fan – follow them over land and sea (and Leicester); sofa Celtic supporter; a bit of a football '"encyclopedia".