‘Project Trophy’: How close is FIFA’s secretive $25 billion new world club championship?

FIFA has held talks with some of the world’s biggest football clubs last week, feeling out interest for a lucrative revamp of the Club World Cup.

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“Hear me, all football clubs below the current top six of the Premier League and repent,” wailed Arsene Wenger in one of his final press conferences as manager of Arsenal. Or, at least, he might have done.

Speaking ahead of his final match, the eventual 1-0 win at Huddersfield, Wenger did what so many fans had thought impossible and turned his thoughts from the past into the future. 

A European super league is “inevitable,” in his mind.

“The small clubs will become a problem,” he added.

“People want to watch quality,” he explained, and it is hard to argue with his summation.

In flux

More and more, football seems to be moving towards a place where it is only the big clubs that matter. 

Apart from their quaint and antiquated fans – look at them with their organically generated atmosphere, get a camera on that – nobody gives a hoot about the plucky little clubs anymore. 

Burnley finished seventh this season, guaranteeing European football on a shoestring budget, two seasons after promotion from the Championship and three since their most recent relegation. 

REUTERS/Jorge Adorno

Only seven of their league games were deemed worthy of UK television coverage. Compare this to 28 for Manchester United, universally acknowledged as one of the least compelling second-placed teams in Premier League history.

Yes, 2520 minutes of Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United trying to play football was available to watch live on British television this season, and the club was paid over £150 million at the end of it for allowing us the courtesy. 

Of course, people – myself included – still tuned in, because it was Manchester United and therefore it must have been a big game. That’s how it works. 

‘Project Trophy’

So you can see why FIFA are keen to get the Red Devils on board with ‘Project Trophy’, their unimaginatively named secret proposal for a revamp of the Club World Cup which could go further than Wenger’s portents of radical change to come.

According to the New York Times, FIFA have been in talks with several of the world’s most powerful football clubs in an attempt to get them on board with their proposal, which would expand the tournament to 24 teams with a private investment group thought to be willing to put up to $25 billion into the briefcase to secure co-ownership.

It is a proposal likely to face fierce opposition from UEFA, with its obvious potential for taking the glitz and glamour away from its own favourite cash cow, the Champions League. 

REUTERS/Jorge Adorno

But, if enough big clubs can be swayed, the potential is certainly there for a genuine revolution at the very top end of club football.

It would not have the tradition of the European Cup or its continental cousins, but the thought of throwing up some genuinely romantic, old-fashioned ties – Barcelona v Boca Juniors perhaps, or Real Madrid v Santos – is a compelling idea.

With $2 billion thought to be distributed among the competing clubs, it is a tournament that would make the rich richer while the rest of football looks on with envy. 

What about us?

Luckily, FIFA have the rest of us covered.

“Today’s meeting allowed us to observe a real interest for a complete reform of the Club World Cup and the development of a new model of competition that would benefit the entire football community around the world,” FIFA said.

Quite how the Boltons, Burtons, Barnsleys and below will come to benefit from an extra nine-figure sum being pumped into the coffers of the big Manchester and London clubs once every four years is not exactly clear, but it’s unlikely they’ll have much of a say in it anyway. 

With Europe’s big leagues abjectly failing in their alleged task of creating a compelling title race this season, perhaps a shake-up at the top would be a good thing. 

The SoftBank Japan Proudly Presents The World Super League Rendering All Other Forms Of Competition Pointless and Inane, Sponsored by Fly Emirates and the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority would indeed be something new. It might even be fun.

Would it be good for the heart of the game? Probably not. Would it save struggling teams below the top flight from financial meltdown? Probably not.

Given where the money and power in the game currently lies, is there much point in hoping against it?

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