Chelsea’s squad returns to London today after an incredibly successful 10-day tour of the United States. While they were in the States, the club won the World Football Challenge, played in front of an average attendance of 68,687, demonstrated a renewed sense of enthusiasm and playing ability under new manager Carlo Ancelotti, and managed to wade off Manchester City’s advances toward captain John Terry.
All in all, you can say it was a tremendous success. Not just for Chelsea, but for the entire World Football Challenge tournament. With that said, here are seven discoveries we learned from the World Football Challenge:
- The United States is ready to host the 2018 World Cup. Everything in this tournament was perfect from the world-class stadiums, the marketing of the event, the television coverage, the stadiums packed with fans and the level of football played on the pitch. Even a massive thunderstorm couldn’t stop the festivities in the game yesterday between Chelsea and Club America in Arlington.
- Soccer is finally a mainstream sport in this country. Unless you haven’t noticed, soccer has finally become a mainstream sport in the United States. It started with the massive success of Euro 2008 last summer, which peaked with the crescendo of the Confederations Cup final just a few weeks ago in South Africa. Then there was the successful Gold Cup tournament both on and off the field. Add to that the sold-out stadiums, incredible TV coverage and the fact that the general public are now finally talking about the sport we’ve loved for years.
- America is the new Asia. We keep seeing Premier League team after Premier League team heading to Asia each summer, while most clubs ignore the United States. But this summer, Chelsea had much larger attendances, by far, than Man United’s tour of Asia as well as Liverpool’s tour of Asia. Those Asian tours aren’t all about tickets sold though. It’s more about merchandise sold and planting the seeds for future growth. However, it’s time that the Premier League starts paying attention to the United States. I believe the next Barclays Trophy should be held in the United States, not Asia.
- Major League Soccer has a fight on its hands. MLS is not only losing the TV rights battle in the United States to European leagues, but it’s also losing the attendance battle. It’s obvious that the majority of soccer fans in the United States are dissatisfied with the playing levels of Major League Soccer in comparison to the European leagues. Sure, there’s the novelty factor. And then there’s the chance to see world-class players in-person. But ignoring those two factors, there’s still no doubt that Major League Soccer has an uphill battle if it wants to convince soccer fans why they should bother watching their league on television or, better yet, attend its games in person.
- Serie A is going to have a long season. Judging by the poor performances from both Inter Milan and AC Milan, it’s going to be another long season for Italian fans as well as being another fruitless season in Champions League. In the past, English teams feared Italian teams, but not any more. Both Inter Milan and AC Milan looked old, tired, unimaginative and incapable of surmounting a serious challenge in their games against Chelsea and Club America.
- The British media don’t treat America seriously. If you read the football articles in the British press last week, you would have read a few about how successful the Premier League teams are in Asia. However, not one of the papers wrote about the success of Chelsea in the United States. Sure, there were the articles about Ancelotti, Terry and others, but none specifically about the massive numbers of football supporters who attended the game. It’s almost as if it didn’t happen.
- Football friendlies don’t have to be friendlies. I was pleasantly surprised at how competitive many of the players were during the World Football Challenge. Other than Chelsea’s last game where they fielded a C team against Club America, the Blues treated these tournament very seriously and not only fielded strong teams, but you could see that the players were fighting for their places as well as the honor of winning. The majority of this tournament felt and looked like a major soccer tournament, not a few meaningless friendlies.
Based on the success of the 2009 World Football Challenge, the chances of the World Football Challenge returning to the United States in 2011 (after a break for the World Cup next summer) must be quite considerable. If so, what teams would you like to see compete in the tournament? Click the comments link below to share your thoughts.
There’s no doubt that Chelsea must have made an incredible amount of money from this summer’s World Football Challenge not only in appearance fees but also in merchandise sales. Let’s hope the rest of the Premier League clubs pay attention and realize how well organized the tours in America are. And how safe they are — compare that to the unfortunate incident in Indonesia where Manchester United were 36 hours away from arriving at their hotel when a bomb detonated in Jakarta.
The last thing I’ll add about the World Football Challenge is that the tournament definitely was a lot more appealing due to the clubs playing from different countries. If it had been only Premier League teams, it wouldn’t have been as exciting or as popular. Reason being is that the organizers of the World Football Challenge played to the strengths of the United States which is its different ethnicities. The World Football Challenge attracted Mexicans and Italians as well as Americans and ex-pats. Let’s hope that the World Football Challenge returns in 2011 and becomes even more popular and widespread throughout the United States.