With the Liverpool squad currently touring the United States, I thought it would be a good idea to look into the Guinness International Champions Cup.
This prestigious (if a pre-season kick-about can that) tournament is currently in just its second year after replacing the World Football Challenge twelve months ago, when Real Madrid won. The cup itself consists of eight high-end teams from Europe competing in 13 different venues (the old World Football Challenge had a more even split between European and US based sides) with these eight teams divided into two groups of four.
This year the two groups are as follows: Group A – Manchester United, AS Roma, Real Madrid and Inter Milan and Group B – Liverpool, Manchester City, Olympiacos and AC Milan.
The tournament has the usual wacky rules with substitutions a constant source of aggravation and the points system is strange too. There are three points awarded for a win, all good so far, but then if/when the game ends as a draw the teams go straight to penalties. With the winner only receiving two points and the loser receiving one point. But the biscuit is well and truly taken with this rule: the Man of the Match award can only be awarded to a player above the age of 21 years old, because the main sponsor is Guinness and the general national drinking age in the US is 21, madness.
Why are Liverpool there?
Well, as is the case with near enough every top club these days, they are on tour. Rather than facing off against Bournemouth, Reading and Yeovil, the money makers at the top clubs now force the players and coaches to go on tour. Usually to other continents to spread the brands of the club and European football. As well as meet foreign supporters who wouldn’t otherwise be able to meet their Anfield heroes.
There are those who believe this a prelude to the future with giant European teams touring in unison to project the might of European football onto these less developed footballing countries. And it works, huge stadiums are generally sold out within hours of tickets going on sale (see Liverpool’s sellout crowd in Australia last year when 95,000 fans piled into the MCG).
There are plenty of positives to Liverpool inclusion, such as the ability to meet foreign supporters and the squad testing themselves against some of the best teams in the world. This could stand them in good stead for their Champions League campaign this season – something Raheem Sterling agrees with in his latest Liverpool interview.
There’s also no doubting the importance of keeping Liverpool in the public eye in these overseas countries with the financial might of Real Madrid, Manchester United and Bayern Munich, to name but a few, remaining a huge obstacle to success – Liverpool need all the friends, support and money they can get their hands on.
There’s also the fact that Liverpool are surrounded by such excellent opposition. This rubbing of shoulders shows that Liverpool are once again part of the elite, for the time being at least, and this will only help Liverpool gain support abroad. This is especially useful for gaining support from people who are more casual about football or people who are just starting out with “soccer”. This outwardly glittery cup will draw people towards the teams that are in it and Liverpool will benefit from this.
However, as is the case with everything in life, there are drawbacks and some of them are pretty serious. Firstly, Liverpool are playing some pretty strong opposition and you don’t want early losses, even pre-season ones, to affect your players mentally. Liverpool generally do well after a pre-season when they excel, results-wise, and this was particularly clear last season when Liverpool won six out of seven pre-season friendlies – before finishing second in the league and gaining Champions League qualification.
Winning is a habit and nobody wants that habit broken facing difficult opposition in worthless friendlies, so it’s down to the coaches to ensure that defeats are not thought about for too long.
Some of the other potential negatives are even more serious, and listeners to the Anfield Wrap podcast will be well aware of this, such as the apparent monopoly of football the European clubs seem to be trying to create. European teams don’t want MLS to grow because that’d take away revenue and support from them – sinister I know but it probably does enter the equation. It gets even worse when you think about the perception of these friendlies.
The players aren’t trying their hardest, the results don’t matter, the rules are different and substitutes buzz around like gold diggers in casinos – what does this create? Well, to quote one reputable source, a “diluted halfway house” which neither shows the true nature or competition of Europe’s top leagues. Is this what fans in the US want to see? Or is it an altogether different product which can be damaging in the long term for Europe with supporters put off the real thing by being force fed this pirate copy, knock-off shadow – duped into thinking that football in Europe is really this boring.
This is now especially the case for new “soccer” fans, who don’t know that Europe’s top five leagues are of a very high and exciting standard.
So, while there are positives in the short term, these premier clubs might want to be careful about how these “tours” portray them in the long run, and whether or not they are actually worth the hassle. British supporters might also tread carefully, is this the prelude to the 39th game? It might be, imagine winning the title at Fenway Park, after-all, anything is possible with modern football.