In 1999, then-Manchester United chairman Martin Edwards claimed his club shouldn’t have been in the competition. The most epic night in over 30 years of the historic Red Devils shouldn’t have even happened. The season before a Nicolas Anelka-inspired Arsenal won the double, but England had two spots for the Champions League, so United slipped into the qualifying rounds and eventually the group stage proper.
Edwards’ words on footballing matters often carried little weight, such was his obsession with monetising the brand. Allegations of him looking up women’s skirts in the toilets of an exclusive Cheshire country club compounded his slightly creepy demeanour. In fairness, every club has had to embrace this to avoid being left behind. His insatiable hunger for profit margins – or just straight greed – thrust United to the front of the queue.
So when he bemoaned The Good Old Days™ of straight European Cup knockout formats that only invited the actual champions of countries, you could have been forgiven for reading it one of two ways. Many agreed that it seemed wrong to allow second-placed teams into Europe’s premier tournament. To then go and call it the Champions League was a further insult to football.
What Fans Want
Others were more prosaic about the situation. In the end, the best teams will play each other more often. Isn’t this what we fans want? It’s easy to scorn people with hindsight – even if they were bloody stupid – but at the time it seemed like a harmless progression towards an exciting new era.
Skip forward two decades. Here we are, all twiddling our thumbs waiting for the season to start again. Partly due to actually loving football, partly due to Sky Sports et al brainwashing us into thinking we can’t live without their product. It’s not like there has been any football to keep us entertained during the season break or anything.
So what content is being thrust in our faces? The fucking International Champions Cup, that’s what. Sounding like a crap version of the Champions League in a license-less David O’Leary-sponsored early 2000s PC game, it is about the most vile, pointless, greed-infested, bloated, trumped up piece of human effluence imaginable.
Money Over Sense
Seriously though, what is the point of it? OK, yes I know the literal answer is blindingly obvious – money – but you know what I mean. You don’t? Bloody hell, you’re starting to sound like someone who actually likes this steaming pile of turd… I mean, what could the possible benefit be to a team preparing for a serious competitive season?
Louis van Gaal was not a socially normal man, but even he had the right idea sometimes. He slated the ridiculous scheduling and extended travel across an entire continent. To satisfy the stench-laden PR garbage machine promoting the entire monstrosity, Manchester United – like every club ‘lucky’ enough to take part in the event – had to fling themselves from converted NFL stadium to college bowls filled with frenzied consumers.
Is the average attention span of a football fan not satisfied with the elitist Champions League? Is a minor break from gorging oneself on football not humanly possible? I get that pre-season friendlies are necessary; they are not the evil here. It is the cringeworthy spiel that is shoved in our faces promoting the shit out of this farce.
International Champions Cup PR Talk
Exhibit A: “It’s the International Champions Cup, the summer’s biggest club competition, and its mix of megastar glamour and debutante mystery is as compelling a proposition as the game has to offer.” I kid you not, that is the tripe on the Internation Champions Cup official website. Yes, it even has its own website. But don’t worry soccer customers, there’s more.
“The International Champions Cup, now in its sixth edition, is a crucial component of the soccer calendar for both the game’s luminaries and its next generation of stars.” Crucial, oh yes. So crucial that you could taste Steven Gerrard’s tears of anguish at losing to United in the 2014 edition. So crucial that they have felt it necessary to limit the substitution periods to three slots during matches.
The argument that it provides a big stage for fringe or youth prospects to put their name forward is flimsy. If Real Madrid organise a friendly, just a regular fixture, against Barcelona, it would attract similar attention. Actually scratch that; it would provide a more authentic platform. It wouldn’t be surrounded by the odd atmosphere of American support for teams that don’t care.
Profit v Benefit
Before you scream, yes, I know there are games outside the US. Let’s not kid ourselves though, this is about as American an event as anything. The false glitz and glamour, the excessive advertising, blockbuster fixtures crammed into a customer-friendly packed timetable; that’s about as American as it gets. Xenophobic? Sue me. Blame all the thousands of fans who fuel this vicious circle by lapping this tat up.
A note of realism: overseas tours are a good thing. Whether you like it or not, foreign support is massive in funding the Premier League especially. Giving something back to the fanatical global fanbase is simple to do. In exchange, crazy sponsorship money can fill certain pockets, rather than working-class salaries. Locals will get fleeced in one sense too, granted, but they are getting a slice of what they want. If I lived in somewhere mad like Siberia, I’d be delighted to pay for plane tickets to Moscow, food for two days, accommodation and inflated match tickets.
In short, set up friendlies in far-flung places if you have to. Organise yet another classic, unmissable encounter between two sides that will face each other soon anyway. Just don’t fucking call it something saccharine like the International Champions Cup – we’re not that soulless and thick. Are we?