How Should Soccer Clubs Decide Which Tournament to Play In?


February 27, 2012

A dilemma barely found in other sports, in soccer many teams find themselves in the difficult position of having to play in multiple tournaments at the same time. So which tournaments should be the focus of these clubs, and why?

The example is true of the greatest clubs in the world: Barcelona has to focus its powers on the local Cup (Copa del Rey), local league (La Liga), and European tournament (Champions League).

That same scenario is true of most of Europe?s top leagues that have a Cup to go along with League competition and various qualifying slots within the same tournament. For many mid table teams in these leagues, the teams have the added pressure of focusing their expectations.

Teams like Clint Dempsey?s Fulham in the Premier League has the opportunity of focusing on local Cups (there are two in England, the FA and Carling) as well as striving for European Tournaments. The league title is not really an option.

For these teams, once they qualify to a tournament it is almost a no-brainer to focus on the European Tournaments than on the league, (unless they are surprisingly close to the top or bottom of the table).

This is also true of leagues in other continents, which have copied the format used by the European Leagues. Media argue repeatedly about the choices made by teams: teams focusing on European tournaments are often deemed elitist and arrogant for blowing off local competition, while coaches that focus on domestic tournaments when they compete in European tournaments are labeled as underachievers, cowards.

Ultimately, the safest decision seems to be to enter all competitions in the same footing and then see how things go. If things look really good or really bad in a specific tournament the teams can adapt.

With Barcelona seeing the league escape, for example, the obvious reaction is to send all their resources to the Champions League and Copa del Rey. But this just the same can be labeled as defeatist, especially if it?s your bitter rival stealing the league away (a similar concern that Manchester Teams are facing in England).

The best choice, hands down, is to make a clear distinction of your priorities, even if it means making sacrifices but this can often lead to bad PR (akin to Mexican champions Tigres bailing on the Libertadores).

It is these choices that add to the complexity of the game, making it so much more interesting. There are war on multiple fronts and you have to decide which territory you want to defend and the residents of the occupied territories are going to be upset: it?s a no-win situation unless you?re Barcelona and you manage to win everything, or Manchester who did it in 2008.

Fans will be happy with any title; the wisest advice is to focus your money on a title, wherever you deem it possible.  People may mock Liverpool now for mocking a Carling Cup title, but with no league or European tournament really in site, they gave the fans the title they could and they should be commended for it.

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