Posts Tagged: football

Time to shake up the FIFA Club World Cup

For one reason or another I took a particular interest in last year’s FIFA Club World Cup held in Japan.

It may have been the involvement and respectable performances of two of Asia’s leading clubs – Sanfrecce Hiroshima from the host nation and Chinese squillionaires Guangzhou Evergrande – or the relatively friendly timeslots in which the games were broadcast live via Fox Football to Australia from the land of the rising sun.

Yet despite the impressive goalscoring feats of FC Barcelona’s Uruguayan forward Luis Suarez or the fighting spirit displayed by Hajime Moriyasu’s freshly minted J.League Champions, to me there seemed to be much missing from what is purported by FIFA to be the globe’s most significant trophy for clubs.

Indeed, I reckon the time is right to revaluate and rejig how the tournament is run and won, and even hold it less often yet in a far bigger way in order to give it the kudos it deserves. In my opinion, the FIFA Club World Cup ought to become a standalone competition held over a month, precisely like the FIFA World Cup is.

Admittedly, the idea of a month-long tournament for clubs raises plenty of potential problems that would need to be navigated in its developmental and organisational phases. Chief among the hazards would be the differing times of year in which the world’s domestic and continental competitions are contested, player availability, national team calendars, and much more.

But for me the potential positives of holding the tournament like a FIFA World Cup could outweigh the negatives, and could ensure that the FIFA Club World Cup becomes a far more interesting feature on the global football schedule.

Anticipation makes a good thing last, so holding the tournament once every four years rather than annually would provide significant lead time for supporters around the world – both of the qualified clubs and not – to get excited about the competition. There’d also be some truly unique and diverse match-ups, further demonstrating the inclusive and culturally extraordinary nature of football.

Moreover, there’d be the opportunity for more clubs to represent their nation and region in intercontinental competition and aspire to global greatness. Currently, one club from each confederation qualifies to play in the FIFA Club World Cup – seven teams. An eighth club – the Champions of the host nation (in 2015 Sanfrecce Hiroshima) – also enter the fray.

I’d propose that each Confederation’s slots for the FIFA Club World Cup largely mirror that of the FIFA World Cup. For Russia 2018, FIFA have allocated Africa five places, Asia 4.5, Europe 13, North, Central America & Caribbean 3.5, Oceania 0.5, and South America 4.5. A representative from the host nation (1) rounds out the 32 teams.

For the FIFA Club World Cup, the allocations may be similar to this:
» CAF: 4 places – a continental Champion per year qualifies
» AFC: 4 places – a continental Champion per year qualifies
» UEFA: 12 places – a continental Champion per year plus runners-up qualifies, plus four Europa League Champions qualify
» CONCACAF: 4 places – a continental Champion per year qualifies
» CONMEBOL: 6 places – a continental Champion per year qualifies, while the remaining two places are determined from two play-off winners from the four runners-up
» OFC: 1 place – the most recent continental Champion qualifies
» HOST: 1 place
» TOTAL: 32 clubs

Granted, the idea presented here is not fool proof and there could be many holes shot in the concept. But if FIFA are indeed serious about making the FIFA Club World Cup the most prestigious prize on offer for clubs, than the tournament in which its won simply must evolve to be much more than a week-long, fly-in-fly-out mission in which UEFA’s or CONMEBOL’s Champion can be crowned kings of the world after merely 180 minutes of match play.

What changes would you make to improve the FIFA Club World Cup? Let me know via Twitter.

A lot of time for… @MatyRyan


I can vividly remember standing against a fence waiting for a training session to finish on what is now the site of the Central Coast Mariners Centre of Excellence some four years ago. I had not long started working with the Mariners, and while I had met most of the playing squad one player I hadn’t at that time met was goalkeeper Mat Ryan.

Ryan had burst onto the Hyundai A-League scene the season prior, coming into the Central Coast starting eleven early in the campaign for the unfortunately injured Jess Vanstrattan, and subsequently wowing fans, rivals and media alike with his impressive performances – performances that would see him claim a series of personal honours, including the Joe Marston Medal, in his rookie year.

Ryan wasn’t training that day – in fact, he was a way off training again. Had everything gone smoothly, Ryan would have been readying himself to venture to the 2011 FIFA U20 World Cup in Colombia with an Australian squad that included then club teammates and close friends Bernie Ibini (now Sydney FC), Mustafa Amini (now Borussia Dortmund), Trent Sainsbury (now PEC Zwolle), and Sam Gallagher (now Newcastle Jets). But a knee injury had struck to put a dampener on what was an otherwise remarkable 2010-11 for the kid born and raised in Sydney’s west.

Ryan arrived mid-way through the session and, like me, came to the fence to watch the remainder of training then check in with the coaching staff. While we waited for ‘Arnie’ [Graham Arnold] to call time on training we got to chatting and, humbly, Ryan played down his debut season in Australia’s top flight. He showed some natural and understandable disappointment when asked about missing the forthcoming youth World Cup in South America, but added words to the effect of “more opportunities will come”.

How right the Hyundai A-League Premier & Champion, AFC Asian Cup Winner, two-time Belgian Pro League Goalkeeper of the Year, would be.

From mid-2011 to mid-2013 I was fortunate to be close enough to the Central Coast camp to watch Ryan develop his game under the tutelage of John Crawley – a coach and man (in my opinion) of under-appreciated quality. In this period we ventured around Australia and Asia, Ryan getting lasers pointed in his eyes from fans in freezing Tianjin, China, making his full Socceroos debut in Hong Kong, and earning an increasing amount of individual honours. The Twitter hashtag #ThingsMatRyanCanStop sparked from his insane personal performance against Melbourne Heart at AAMI Park was another highlight, but nothing would top the magic 48 hours experienced in April 2013 when the team won the Hyundai A-League Championship over Western Sydney Wanderers, flew to Korea Republic the very next morning, then defeated Suwon Bluewings in the AFC Champions League. Mat Ryan central to it all, of course, and improving with every challenge.

On a trip to Europe in August last year, I decided it would be a great time to venture to Belgium to see Ryan – who by that time had gone to another level again – play for Club Brugge. I contacted Mat in the weeks before to let him know I was coming, hoping only that he may be able to spare some time for a coffee in amongst his busy schedule. Instead, Mat offered that I not only stay a couple of nights in his apartment in beautiful Brugge, but picked me up at the Station when I arrived. Then, on the day of Club’s away match at the interesting Regenboogstadion against Zulte Waragem, Ryan threw me the keys to his (rather slick European) auto and told me not to waste time in catching the train, but drive his car to the fixture instead.

“Just pick me up at the Jan Breydel [Club Brugge’s home ground and base] when the bus gets back tonight,” Ryan said as the keys flew in my direction. 

That’s the type of person Mat Ryan is, and I believe will remain, no matter how much more he achieves in his already decorated career. And, if legendary Australian goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer’s career can be used as any example, Ryan could well play on into his late 30s or early 40s. Certainly he has every opportunity to do so. Those who know him understand not only how hard he trains, but how focussed he is in looking after himself and how discerning he is in his lifestyle choices.

Eat, sleep, train repeat. Eat, sleep, play, repeat. Eat, sleep, travel, train, repeat. 

Tonight Ryan could earn his first piece of significant team silverware in Europe when he steps out for Club Brugge against Anderlecht in the Belgian Cup Final in Brussels. Just days ago he was in Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, playing a key role in his side’s round of 16 victory over Besiktas at the raucous Atatürk Olympic Stadium. By virtue of that success, a trip to Ukraine to face to Dnipro Dnipropetrovsk in April awaits. Before that, Ryan is set to play in friendlies for the Socceroos against Germany in Kaiserslautern, and FYR Macedonia in Skopje. And let’s not forget domestic duties, where Club Brugge currently leads the competition with 61 points from 30 matches.

Mat Ryan, the boy from Plumpton, has come a long way since his days playing for Central Coast Mariners Youth at Pluim Park in little Lisarow. But at just 22, his story is only beginning to be written.

@BENNYONEILL

Big Six: Tips For Aspiring Sports Media Professionals

This week I found myself in discussion with a football coach talking culture within a football club and, as importantly, how fortunate each person who works in the sport for a living ought to feel.

One of the remarks I made to the coach was that when I was in high school – perhaps even in the early stages of University – working full-time in professional football seemed extremely distant. A dream.

I told him that I used to wonder just how people came to be employed in the game, and particularly in my area of media, communication, and marketing. Just how are people given the opportunity that so many clearly crave?

So, I thought it might be a good time to put some ideas on ‘paper’ and share with aspiring sports media professionals my top tips for getting a chance – then making the most of it – with a professional sporting organisation.

Obviously this is not a hard and fast rule book or bible, just my ideas and some things that I found useful in my progression from a dreamer to someone who is lucky enough to wake up each morning and get paid to watch, think about, and work in football.

1. GET YOURSELF TO UNI!
It’s an obvious one, but I think it is so important for people wanting a job in sports media or marketing to get themselves enrolled in University, TAFE, or an equivalent. Passion for and knowledge of your chosen sport is one thing, but having the theoretical underpinnings and general skills in your locker when you go for a gig is another. University is the perfect place to learn skills, fine-tune them, ask for feedback, and explore the topics you enjoy. In my first weeks at University studying Journalism 101 (not the real course name), my tutor recognised that I based all my articles on football (they were undoubtedly cringe worthy!). He asked me if I would be interested in volunteering for Newcastle Jets (see point 2.), and opened the door for me to do so. I can’t say that it will happen for everyone, but the people you meet at University could shape your life more than they may ever know.

2. VOLUNTEER (BUT KNOW WHEN TO STOP).
I think most sports media, communication or marketing students would be surprised to know how willing and open clubs and organisations are when it comes to accepting volunteers and giving young people a go. I was lucky enough to be given an opportunity to volunteer for Newcastle Jets in 2008, working on matchday media operations and website articles for two seasons. Volunteering with au.fourfourtwo.com as a writer followed. There is a limit as to how much of your time you should give for free, and you need to determine for yourself when you deserve to be remunerated. But certainly volunteering, showing your skills, and learning from people already in the business (people who have most likely had to tread the same path) can be an invaluable experience. I ended up as the best man at my first volunteer “boss’” wedding, so not only can you make some fantastic industry contacts, but some great mates.

3. VOLUNTEER (AGAIN).
Didn’t we just cover this? Kind of – this one is slightly different. Once you land your first gig, I suggest giving your time for bigger organisations again. When I started with Central Coast Mariners, the opportunity came about to work on international matches for Football Federation Australia (FFA). This was a superb opportunity to learn from people more experienced than myself, and like a player, take international experience back to the domestic scene. Some of the people who I gave my time for have become not only good friends, but crucial industry contacts and mentors.

Whatever your game, working or volunteering at the highest level available to you at your career stage ought to be a top priority. 

4. BUILD YOUR (SOCIAL) NETWORK.
You’ve been to University, volunteered plenty of hours and landed your first gig – now you need to amplify your network. Some contacts will come about naturally as you delve into your work, but getting to know other people may take more time and effort. I recommend using Twitter as a professional tool to converse with industry contacts and people you respect and want to work with (leave Facebook for your high school friends and University mates). If I had a dollar for every football industry contact I ‘got to know’ on Twitter before I actually met them in person I could buy a Category A ticket to this season’s Hyundai A-League Grand Final. It’s powerful, and an important place for you to present yourself professionally, learn, and share ideas. Consider attending conferences and networking events too, and go out of your way every so often to shout someone you might work with long term or admire a coffee.

5. GO FOR A GIG YOU (PROBABLY) WON’T GET.
I recommend going for a job that’s most likely out of your league (for the time being at least!). I remember going for a job at the AFC Asian Cup Local Organising Committee back in 2013 when, in hindsight, I was underqualified. Of course, rejection felt bad at the time, but thinking about it now I realise why I in fact wasn’t the best fit for the job. Considering why you didn’t get a gig allows you to reflect on what areas you need to improve – much like a player aiming for a transfer from the Hyundai A-League to one of Europe’s top leagues! In the end another opportunity to be involved with the 2015 AFC Asian Cup (albeit in a lesser capacity) arose and I got that chance to work at the tournament. One door closes, another opens.

6. WORK HARD.
There’s no substitute.

@BENNYONEILL