Supportive parents would have us believe that it’s not about the winning, it’s about the taking part. This weekend, Arsenal proved otherwise. Lifting the Emirates Cup, despite losing to a Sevilla side who have a 100 per cent win record in the tournament, has given Arsenal a victory that’s as hollow as the cup itself.
It does, somehow, make mathematical sense: to encourage Arsène Wenger’s beloved attacking football, the tournament awarded one point for each goal scored, in addition to the customary three for a win. So, through virtue of putting five past Benfica, Arsenal finished level on points and level on goal difference with Sevilla – but crucially had a higher figure in their “goals for” column.
Arsenal fans, who made up a major part of the inexplicably large 57,968 attendance at the Emirates Stadium, are forgivably underwhelmed, using Twitter to sarcastically voice their ire.
Have we qualified for the champions league now
— Lacatoes (@Cechque) 30 July 2017
“We won the cup because we brought the ball” pic.twitter.com/kHt1WW0pZn
— Arsenal☆ (@20arsenal) 30 July 2017
— Ali (@RoyMustang786) 30 July 2017
Get in!!! Great achievement!
— – (@LacaMadness) 30 July 2017
The true prize was friendship.
— AussieApathy (@AussieApathy) 30 July 2017
Captain Per Mertesecker was similarly bemused. The lack of emotion in his face was rivalled only by how half-hearted his celebration was with the cup. Spare a thought for the suited official who tried to inspire the classic low-to-high trophy movement into the arms of a towering – and stationary – Mertesacker. It even took a few seconds for the squad to realise that they should, in fact, be applauding.
It was a similar scene in Singapore, where Internazionale won the generously-named International Champions Cup, consisting of three different leagues in three different countries with a differing number of participants in half-empty arenas. It’s not exactly the stuff of childhood dreams. It’s also worth noting that Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t even played against Barcelona, demonstrating how little the biggest of fixtures meant to Real Madrid – though perhaps he was being spared for his six-pointer with Spanish legal authorities on Monday.
When it came to the trophy presentation for Inter’s win, sealed after a confident 2-1 win over Chelsea, official photos echo those of Mertesacker: a pair of suits smile and applaud while Inter skipper Miranda looks into a middle ground of existential dread. At this point in the interminable off-season, we are all Miranda.
This corporate narcissism is particularly galling when compared to the thrilling women’s Euro 2017 quarter final later that night, where England edged out France thanks to a superb second-half performance. As England progress, they also prove that it’s in the real competitive arena where footballers and promoters should be earning their money.
If Arsenal are serious about winning a tournament of repute, they should now be concerned. Sevilla were commanding and looked far fitter and better-prepared than Wenger’s men – and it’s only a week until the Gunners face a defensively-fragile Chelsea in next weekend’s Community Shield. In reality, Wembley looks set to host two sides out of shape and out of practice – but, most crucially, it seems, in pocket. It was estimated by totalsportek that clubs earned between £9m and £15m for participating in last year’s International Champions Cup. It is hard to imagine the status quo changing anytime soon.
As a result, clubs now get to send their players abroad to train while netting a tidy sum from international promoters. It was the worry of the ill-fated Louis Van Gaal that preparation would suffer while business boomed. The former Manchester United manager did try to cap his team’s participation in foreign friendly tournaments, but even a giant of Dutch football could do nothing to halt the relentless advance of grassy capitalism.
Clubs should be wary of being too trigger happy with their appearances though. This year’s ICC saw the first El Clasico played outside Spain for 25 years. Last year’s included a Manchester derby. The financial health of these clubs might be rude, but their brand – their reputation and prestige – risks being irrevocably tarnished.
But really, the main effect is boredom. The fans deserve better. The players deserve better. The Premier League starts again in two weeks. Bring on the real thing.