Benitez battling jet-lag at a Club World Cup that is still trying to wake up… a prize that should be football's crowning glory, but isn't
00:29 GMT, 13 December 2012
Rafael Benitez was up late last night. Bowling. As you do. Well, you do in Japan. Some western visitors have been known to hit the driving range at 3am, as Liverpool did in 1981. Jet-lag does that.
Benitez said, three days into Chelsea's trip, he was still averaging only four hours sleep each night. He could handle it, he insisted, but he worried about his players.
And there, in microcosm, is the conundrum facing the manager of the European contender at the Club World Cup. The prize, to be the world champions of club football, sounds grand; the status of the competition remains pitiful.
Raf night's sleep: Benitez is attempting to lead Chelsea to world title glory
Chelsea were dispatched to Sunderland by the Premier League the day they were scheduled to leave for Japan — they flew to Tokyo from Newcastle via Helsinki — and the day after they arrive back, presuming an appearance in the final on Sunday, they must head north to play Leeds United in the Capital One Cup quarter-finals.
Nobody is advocating doctoring the fixtures to give Chelsea a break, but the team it is presumed they will face in the final, Corinthians of Brazil, will have been in Japan for two weeks by the time the trophy is at stake.
Corinthians mean it, man. The South Americans mean it. They didn’t play well against Al-Ahly yesterday but this tournament, even when it was a stripped down, one-off match between two continental champions, has always had its greatest cachet beyond Europe.
The most excited members of Chelsea’s travelling party were their Brazilian contingent. David Luiz said he grew up watching club football’s world championship and dreaming of participating.
Meanwhile, back home, the match that will dominate the headlines this week took place between Bradford City and a demotivated Arsenal. The idea that Chelsea’s game with Monterrey of Mexico today might share equal billing is fanciful.
Dream come true: Luiz is one of the Chelsea stars delighted to be involved in the competition
The presumption is of a walkover, even though Manchester United could only draw 1-1 in 2000 with Mexican champions Necaxa, who came third, beating Real Madrid for that dubious honour.
The surest confirmation that the Club World Cup has arrived will be when the coach of the European entrant is not giving his press conference with matches holding his eyelids open. Benitez concedes that is a way off yet. He knows, however, that he is two wins away from his first trophy as Chelsea manager: and that winning it would make the club world champions. It won’t get his name sung sweetly by the Shed End but it’s a start.
‘In Europe we don’t consider this tournament too much but I think it’s getting better,’ Benitez said. ‘You have more teams in the other continents getting stronger, and that will help. In 2010 with Inter Milan, we beat Mazembe of Congo in the final.
'I was laughing about this with Oscar as Mazembe played Internacional of Porto Alegre, his team, who were much better. It seemed they had to beat Mazembe but they lost. People in this continent, they bring good players and have good teams.
‘The standards of the competitions are different, but the teams that win them are good. Monterrey are a good team, so these matches are tricky. The tempo is the key but if they can match our intensity they will make it difficult and then you never know.
‘When you play a Brazilian team, in my
experience they make it slow and won’t allow you to go quick. They keep
the ball, they pass it. My Brazilian friends tell me that when Spain get
to the World Cup in 2014, the grass will be long, like this.’ Benitez
gestured ankle deep. ‘All these things have to be considered.
Eden in the right direction Hazard enjoys a joke with his team-mates
‘One day this tournament will be considered differently. There are teams around the world now, in Asia or any big country, they have money and pay big for players.
‘Over time, the others will be much better. I remember having a conversation with a club and they said they wanted to win the league, then the Asian championship and then the Club World Cup. That was their target. Rich owners will spend money and the teams will be better. But they need time. The tempo in England and Spain is different, but in terms of players and technique they are good.’
The perception is that the Club World Cup is a trifle, two matches, a matter of days. Actually it is the biggest slog in club football and not just in terms of the flight.
A Chelsea victory would be the culmination of a two-and-a-half year process that began on August 14, 2010, with a 6-0 win over West Bromwich Albion. That season the club finished second and qualified for the Champions League. The following season, they won the Champions League. And that victory got them the invite that could culminate in a position as world champions.
Of course, at just about any other club, this progression would have been made under one manager. This being Chelsea, the man who finished second, Carlo Ancelotti, was sacked, as was the man who got them out of their Champions League group stage, Andre Villas-Boas, as was the man who won the Champions League final, Roberto Di Matteo.
Chelsea could be the first club to win a World Cup by accident. Benitez would lift the trophy, but he is the fourth manager to play a part in the club’s run through this tournament, which has been far from smooth.
So what awaits them today Victor
Vucetich, Monterrey’s manager is a wily old fox who has five domestic
titles and two CONCACAF Champions League crowns to his name.
Stern test The Monterrey players can cause a huge upset by beating the European champions
His team are nimble but use height in the forward line, and Vucetich appeared heartened that Chelsea are not a traditionally imposing English side. His prediction they will score, however, suggests he shares a worldwide realism about the true nature of this competition.
And there is the problem. There is a great tournament trying to break out here, with a wonderful accolade as its prize. Unfortunately, with the best teams allowed to delay entry until the semi-final stage, and the hosting rights farmed out to parts of the world that do not have football in the blood, FIFA undermine their own competition.
/12/12/article-2247195-167A7F64000005DC-684_634x420.jpg” width=”634″ height=”420″ alt=”Net result: FIFA are trialing new goalline technology at the tournament” class=”blkBorder” />
Net result: FIFA are trialing new goalline technology at the tournament