Jürgen Klopp has said Fifa’s scheduling of the Club World Cup undermines respect for the competition but Liverpool did not “fly 3,000 miles not to show up” in Qatar.
Liverpool’s attempt to win the tournament for the first time begins with Wednesday’s semi-final in Doha against Monterrey, the Concacaf Champions League winners from Mexico. Whereas the Club World Cup has a passionate following in Latin and South America – as evidenced by the thousands of Flamengo fans who have travelled to the Gulf state from Brazil – it has struggled to generate the same esteem within European football.
Klopp believes the decision to stage the competition in the middle of the European season is one factor. He said proposals for an expanded 24-team Club World Cup from the summer of 2021 – days after the Champions League final and potentially clashing with the Nations League, Africa Cup of Nations and the Concacaf Gold Cup – would not help the competition’s prestige.
“I can’t talk about respect in England but we are here now and completely focused,” the Liverpool manager said. “If, however, you asked me if there should be a Club World Cup in the middle of our season, I would say no. We are here so, for us, it is the most important competition in the world. But can it be bigger? I don’t know. Fifa plans a team World Cup in the summer but it is the summer when the African competition is playing and others as well.
“We have a lot of fans in this part of the world and they watch us in the middle of the night, so it is nice we come closer, but from an organisation point of view they have to talk, because otherwise Fifa say we’ll have a tournament, and Uefa say so will we, and then South America too. And they all think their tournament is most important. You cannot just add on tournaments. It doesn’t work. Fifa doesn’t like I say it – sorry – but it is my opinion and my opinion has to be right sometimes because I think about football all day.”
Despite his grievances about the timing of the Club World Cup, Klopp insists the European champions are determined to claim their third trophy of the calendar year. Klopp, whose team won the Uefa Super Cup in August, added: “We don’t fly 3,000 miles not to show up. Is it the biggest cup competition in the world? I don’t know. We represent Liverpool and Europe … We will give our best as always and hopefully you can see that.”
James Milner echoed his manager’s view on the importance of the Club World Cup to Liverpool, who were beaten finalists in 1981, 1984 and 2005 in its various guises. The midfielder said: “We don’t want to be remembered as the team who won one major trophy. We want people to remember us as a group and forget which year we won each trophy. If a chance to win a trophy is a distraction then this is a pretty good distraction. This is the trophy the club have not won so it would be nice to have that.”
Liverpool’s presence in Qatar has raised more important concerns than the timing of the Club World Cup. The club rejected the five-star hotel it was allocated by Fifa on ethical grounds, after an investigation revealed it was built by migrant workers operating in breach of labour laws and being paid below the minimum wage. Qatar’s record on human rights and treatment of the LGBT community, with homosexuality illegal, has invited further questions on Fifa’s decision to award Qatar the Club World Cup and the World Cup in 2022.
Klopp said: “I have an opinion about that as well but this is a real serious thing to talk about and I think the answers should come from people who know more about it. I have to be influential in football but not in politics. People in politics have to be influential. I like you ask the question but I think I am the wrong person to answer.
“Everything is organised as it should be. Organising the competition wherever it is in the world, Fifa did that, so the organisers have to think about these things. Athletes shouldn’t. We shouldn’t. We represent Liverpool, we are invited so we should go there. If sportsmen have to make a decision about a competition wherever it is in the world, that is not right. My personal opinion about homosexuality and all these things, I have one of course: I think we should all be treated equally. That is clear. We don’t have the time to judge things when we are here – we only have time for training.”