The Expanded 2025 Club World Cup: An Underdog’s Opportunity

Next summer, we’ll be seeing an expanded 32-team FIFA Club World Cup hit American shores. But is this just another ploy from FIFA to line its pockets with more cash, or is it a genuine chance for the Davids to slay some Goliaths on a global stage?

Once upon a time, there were natural breaks in the footballing calendar. Sure, there were leagues that ran at different times of the year to match their local climates, but most players would have at least a month or two to recover and train in between seasons.

Now, with the addition of extra cup games, increasingly long preseason tours, and random international fixtures, top-level players will be lucky to get three uninterrupted weeks of vacation each season. With the reinvention of the FIFA Club World Cup, the world’s elite footballers will be asked to play even more games in a calendar year.

In previous iterations, the Club World Cup featured the winners from the six continental club tournaments along with one club from the host nation, and was played in December to ensure that it fit into a time when most leagues schedule a holiday period break.

Historically, the Club World Cup garnered less attention than other international club tournaments, as the European teams won most of the time or sent smaller squads to reduce the physical burden on players, and fans didn’t seem all that attached to the competition and treated it more like a glorified friendly.

For the 2025 edition, the tournament will expand from seven teams to 32, and from 10 days to one month. The United States will play host, and although venues are yet to be determined, we will likely see an East Coast-heavy schedule to avoid conflicts with the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which will be taking place at the same time (more on that later).

For qualification, FIFA is using a combination of coefficients and past winners of continental tournaments. For example, the Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan earned a spot in the Club World Cup after winning the 2022 AFC Champions League. In contrast, Ulsan HD of South Korea has qualified due to their AFC four-year ranking. At the time of writing, 27 of 32 teams have qualified, with the last five spots still up for grabs through continental tournaments and coefficient rankings.

Now that we know what the tournament is, it is a great time to ask why FIFA is making such a drastic change to one of its sporting properties. While the simple answer is money, there are more diplomatic reasons for why FIFA is trying to grab a larger piece of the club footballing landscape.

The first potential reason is that the last iteration of the Club World Cup was losing money. Hosting a tournament, no matter how small, is expensive. It didn’t create much media buzz, and the revenue it generated was below FIFA’s standards. Hosting a tournament nobody cared about hurt FIFA’s brand image as the pinnacle of footballing success.

The second reason is that FIFA wants to have more control over the football world. Sure, they are the overarching governing body of the sport, but in club football, the continental confederations get all of the shine.

In contrast, FIFA sits silently in the background, waiting for the next World Cup. By putting together a global club competition, FIFA takes the crown as the most thorough examination to find the best club football team in the world, something which the Confederations would never be able to claim. This is a political power play to show that FIFA is the big boy, and that everyone else is just a local operator.

The next talking point feeds directly into the narratives above. FIFA has long admired the American market. For football, it is the final frontier of discovery as the sports-mad region has yet to fully adopt what it calls soccer into its culture.

With the U.S. hosting the Club World Cup, especially in its expanded format, it tests the waters for the upcoming 2026 World Cup, while also fortifying the foundation it has been building for the past three or so decades. While I have criticized FIFA and its decision making in the past, giving the United States the first expanded Club World Cup seems like a perfect marketing plan. It allows the U.S. to be a piece of its history instead of forcing it to adopt the past, something which has held back MLS and other footballing entities in North America.

Interestingly, we will likely see overlap between the 2025 Club World Cup, CONCACAF Gold Cup, and North American club season. While only a handful of teams at the Club World Cup will have players that are eligible for the Gold Cup, it will be interesting to see which tournament takes precedence for these players, as it is one of the first real examples of a player having to choose club or country.

The biggest obvious downside to the expanded format, however, is fixture congestion.

The eventual winner and runner-up would add seven competitive matches to their fixture calendar. For context, Manchester City played 61 games in the 2022-2023 season. Boost that number to 68, and the club would play once every 5.4 days or so over 365 days of the year. Throw in international competition and players have even more matches on their plates.

FIFPRO, the professional players union, has publicly denounced the scheduling of this tournament, stating that it “demonstrates a lack of consideration for the mental and physical health of participating players, as well as a disregard for their personal and family lives.”

Another potential downside to the tournament could initially look like a major boon. If the expanded Club World Cup is a hit on U.S. soil, it could lead to European leagues seriously considering playing meaningful fixtures in the States. La Liga has already made it clear that it wants to play Stateside league matches as early as the 2025-26 season, and we could see more leagues follow suit, especially if the Club World Cup is commercially successful.

This move, while possibly exciting for American-based fans of European teams, turns its back on the grassroots fans in both Europe and the U.S., and essentially says, “you are not good enough for us,” to both groups. Sure, the games would be wildly popular, but is it really growing the game the right way, or will it add to the increasingly unsustainable nature of football?

club world cup 2025

If there is one major positive from this tournament, it is the opportunity for players at clubs around the world to showcase their abilities. Some of the most underrated ballers will have the attention of a global audience and will get a chance to prove their talents against the world’s elite.

Some of the non-European clubs taking part are absolutely massive, yet they are basically unknown to those who don’t take a hyper-keen interest in the sport. The likes of Wydad Casablanca, Al Ahly, and Fluminense will show that the world should pay more attention to their football and the regions they come from.

Look, I am not going to lie and say that I am extremely excited about this tournament. I see the commercial reasoning behind it and see through the “grow the game” marketing. But, it is hard not to get romantic about an underdog surprising European giants, and in a tournament like this one, after a long season, I wouldn’t put it past one of these teams to make a deep run and forever entrench itself into the hearts of those who want to cheer for an underdog.

Players will have their career trajectories forever changed with a big performance against a level thought to be above theirs. Look at how some of the players from Morocco’s Cinderella run from the 2022 World Cup have had their careers change. This is a moment for the Davids, not the Goliaths.

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