By Isidore Lewis

With the 2010 FIFA Club World Cup due to take place in Abu Dhabi this week and the next, I thought it might be interesting to put together a brief summary detailing the history of the competition.

The first reference to a ‘Club’ World Cup actually came in 1951 with the introduction of the Copa Rio. So far ahead of its time (in that it was established before the European Champions Cup even existed) the Copa Rio in fact resembled the Club World Cup of now far more than any of the later established intercontinental cup formats that came in between.

With no continental champions in existence, the first ever competition saw Brazilian state champions Vasco da Gama and Palmeiras joined instead by a selection of domestic league winners from around Europe and South America; these included Sporting Lisbon of Portugal, Juventus of Italy, Nacional of Uruguay and Red Star Belgrade of Yugoslavia.

The tournament did not last long, however, and effectively became defunct when it was succeeded by the Torneio Octogonal Rivadavia Correa Meyer in 1953. Although in essence this was a similar tournament, many of the European teams competing were replaced by Brazilian teams – presumably in a bid to attract more local interest – and the tournament failed to build on the intercontinental aspect that first made it unique.

The cup was re-established in 1960 as the Intercontinental Cup; a one-off annual ‘super cup’ contested by the winners of the European Champions Cup (now the UEFA Champions League) and its South American equivalent, the Copa Libertadores. This time, the cup stood the test of time, cementing its position as a permanent fixture in the world football calendar.

Despite this, the competition still had its problems, most notably the sense of apathy that came from many European clubs – particularly in the 1970s – which served to undermine the cup’s worth. Twice, in 1971 and ’73, European champions Ajax declined to participate; as did Bayern Munich in 1974, Liverpool in ’77 and Nottingham Forest in ’79. The 1975 final, intended to be played between Bayern Munich and Independiente of Argentina, did not even go ahead in the end as the two sides could not decide upon a suitable date in which to play.

When Japanese car manufacturer Toyota signed a deal to become leading sponsor in 1980, the cup was moved to Tokyo, where it held a regular slot for 24 years. Bringing the cup to Japan was seen as an opportunity to expand the reach of soccer and to promote the growth of the sport in Asia in the ‘80s and ‘90s. With consistently high attendance levels and having finally established something of a home, the competition was positively received out in Japan.

The Toyota Cup continued to exist through the early 2000s, taking place as usual despite the formation of a brand new tournament, the World Club Championship. Controversially introduced in 2000 as part of a wider attempt by FIFA to increase its presence in club soccer – FIFA had at the time become concerned at the growing influence of UEFA – the World Club Championship was supposed to represent an embrace of globalization and a vision of the future.

In a nod to the original Copa Rio, the launch took place in Brazil and was contested by eight club teams from around the globe. However, it turned out to be very unsuccessful, largely owing to a controversial decision made by Manchester United which saw the club pull out of the English FA Cup in order to participate. Given the continued existence of the Toyota Cup at the time, the role of the tournament was also deemed confusing, with FIFA effectively pronouncing two world club champions that year.

As a result of the confusion – and also partly due to complications involving the collapse of FIFA’s marketing partner, ISL – plans for 2001 were put on hold. A second World Club Championship was preliminarily rescheduled for 2003, however, when that never materialized, the competition was eventually re-established in 2005 as the World Club Cup, merging and subsequently replacing the role of the Intercontinental Cup.

As the tournament has grown in the past five years or so, so too has the format. FIFA has experimented with such details as extended qualifying rounds, increased prize money and the introduction of a fifth place play-off, all ideas of which were ultimately intended to  increase interest (and most probably revenue), especially amongst weaker nations. The cup was even given a name change (from the World Club Cup to the Club World Cup); yet, most people consider that the constant revamping has actually been detrimental to the credibility of the cup.

The most recent change has seen the competition move to Abu Dhabi, which is particularly interesting in view of Qatar’s recent World Cup bid win for 2022. After a somewhat underwhelming first year in the Middle East – in terms of attendance levels, only Barcelona’s matches reached over 40,000 (with the next highest being just over half that) – much focus will be on the hosts when this year’s finals kick off on Wednesday.