Barcelona’s domestic season is temporarily on hold this week when, as Champions League holders, they travel to Japan for the Club World Cup. Their first game in the tournament will be the semi-final against Guangzhou Evergrande in Yokohama on Thursday.
Saturday’s 2-2 draw with Deportivo La Coruna at Camp Nou was not the ideal preparation, especially with Luis Enrique’s men surrendering a two-goal lead on a weekend when Real Madrid dropped further behind in the title race.
Barca’s travelling party to Japan included Neymar, despite the striker’s participation remaining in doubt due to a groin injury he suffered in training. The Brazilian missed both last week’s Champions League tie with Bayer Leverkusen and Saturday’s draw.
The competition features the top clubs from FIFA’s six continental confederations plus the host nation’s champions. Tournament favourites Barca are bidding for their third Club World Cup title, having won it in 2009 and 2011 while Guangzhou, with Luiz Felipe Scolari in charge, are on a 28-game unbeaten run.
A Barca victory over the Chinese side on Thursday will set up a meeting with River Plate in Sunday’s final, but what are the real benefits of travelling so far to play just one or two games in the middle of a gruelling domestic campaign?
The answer, of course, lies partly with FIFA, who introduced the Club World Cup into the world football calendar in 2000, but primarily with the investors, sponsors and marketing companies for whom an appearance by a team of Barcelona’s world standing is guaranteed to spread the gospel of football ever-wider.
There are tangible commercial benefits for Barcelona too. As well as swelling sponsors’ coffers, the competition provides a further opportunity to promote the Blaugrana brand across the globe and generate a lucrative return for the club – hopefully without its stars sustaining unnecessary injuries.
The non-appearance of Neymar in Thursday’s semi-final will not please the sponsors, but the Brazilian’s very presence in Japan alongside Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and the rest of the Barca glitterati, means there are plenty of other revenue streams to be tapped into – replica shirts, photo opportunities, Press and media calls to name a few.
Sergio Busquets said all the right things as he and his teammates were greeted in Yokohama by children singing the Barca anthem. “Regarding the tournament, we are trying to deal with it in high spirits since it’s a tournament that is hard to win, because of the teams taking part,” the midfielder told reporters.
Winning the Club World Cup would crown a glorious year for Luis Enrique’s side by adding to the Primera Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League titles they have already secured this year and Messi, who would surely relish a clash with River Plate, believes this will motivate the team.
“There’s no need to search for motivation,” the Argentine told the FIFA website. “We know just how much the Club World Cup means and for us it’s about winning another title, these championship wins are an indelible legacy in the history of the club. It’s something very important.”
The tournament in Japan will pass by many European football fans but, by staging it in one of the game’s fastest developing countries, FIFA can be confident in the knowledge that the brand and the product it champions across the globe will continue to penetrate new markets and reach untapped corners of existing ones.