Manchester United's 2000 Club World Cup

Manchester United's 2000 Club World Cup

Today the winners of the respective Champions Leagues of Asia, Africa, North America, Oceania and Europe, as well as South America’s Libertadores come together to compete for the Club World Cup. It has, by and large, been a tournament that has flown under the radar for many of the UK for most of its 21 year existence.

Just two British sides have ever won the tournament, Manchester United in 2008 and Liverpool last year. Indeed, for many the mention of Club World Cup primarily conjures up thought of just one thing, the absolute fiasco that was Manchester United’s participation in the very first edition back in January of 2000, and the storm of controversy that led up to it. 

By the end of the 20th century, FIFA were well on their way with a policy of globally expanding the game of football away from its traditional epicentres. The 1990’s had seen the World Cup held for the first time in the USA, while the upcoming edition, a joint venture between Korea and Japan, was to be the first ever finals based in Asia.

And it wasn’t just in the world of international football that FIFA were pushing this global policy. The historic Intercontinental Cup had been running since 1960 and pitted the winners of the European Cup/Champions League against the winners of the Copa Libertadores. With a tradition dating back to 1980 of the match being played in Japan, the competition was the closest thing to a global club competition that FIFA had, but as ever they wanted more.



FIFA’s bright new idea was to create a truly global club competition. Bringing together the winners of not just Europe and South America’s premier continental competitions but also the winners of the continental competitions organised by every governing body under the FIFA umbrella, making six sides in total. 

So with this in mind let’s go back to 1999 and the absolute mess that was Manchester United’s involvement in the first iteration.

It would not be unreasonable to suggest that by the turn of the millennium, Manchester United were enjoying a moment the likes of which had never been seen in British football. The club completed an historic treble of Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League, becoming the first English team to have done so. They also achieved it with a side built around a young core of home grown players many of whom had by this time has transcended mainstream celebrity in a way few players ever had before.



They would undoubtedly be heading into the Club World Championship as both heavy favourites and as the main draw for the fledgling competition. For United though, a mid January, week-long excursion to South America threatened to seriously derail their upcoming season. Suggestions were made of forgoing the tournament altogether. As ever in football, politics intervened. 

A snub from the reigning European champions would be a massive embarrassment to FIFA and by all accounts the FA knew how pivotal the team’s appearance at the tournament could be to their chances of having a successful bid for the 2006 World Cup. 

As former Manchester United chairman,  Martin Edwards, puts it, the FA were insistent on the side attending.



"It was made quite plain to us that it would severely enhance the chances of the 2006 World Cup bid if we played in Brazil, and it was put even stronger than that — that we could jeopardise England’s chances if we didn’t.”

It’s would also be naive to think that Manchester United were not aware of the potential publicity and monetary benefits that participating in the inaugural tournament could bring. It’s certainly true that when the FA proposed dropping out of the FA cup, United did not hesitate. The club confirmed on 29 June 1999 that they would be the first holders of the competition not to defend their title.

By the time January 2000 rolled around United were showing no signs of decline after their staggering success in the previous season. Just two league losses in the opening twenty had them firmly on top of the Premier League table while they had also topped their Champions League group and clinched the Intercontinental Cup. Triumphing in the latter over Brazilian side Palmeiras just over a month before the start of the Championship.

The tournament certainly had some teething problems. In the haste to get the endeavour off the ground the draw was made prior to the conclusion of the 1999 Copa Liberatdores. So instead of having rematch against South American champions Palmeiras, United would instead be up against the winners of the previous years iteration, Vasco da Gama.

United laboured through the opening match against Necaxa, a 1-1 draw in which United were lucky to be saved by a late equaliser following a Beckham red card. The next fixture would see them up against Vasco de Gama. No longer reigning champions of South America but a side which, thanks to new addition Romario, boasted one of the most lethal strike partnerships in the world as he slotted in next to the mercurial Edmundo.



United’s defence was torn apart as Romario bagged two in the opening 25 minutes before Edmundo put the game out of site by half time. The result, combined with their dismal showing in the first match, put United firmly out of the running.

A 2-0 victory against semi-professional Australian club South Melbourne in the final group match wasn’t good enough to even rescue a place in the third place play-off as United crashed out in humiliating fashion. 

Back home their woes received a less than sympathetic reception. Despite Chairman Edwards and others insistence that the United’s decision to forgo the FA Cup for the sake of international glory was as a result of FA lobbying, many were unconvinced. Previous involvement in superfluous fixtures such as a testimonial for Sir Alex Ferguson, a match that had featured a full strength line up in October as well as United’s weakened line up for the Worthington Cup proved their was undoubtably the depth within the club to field some kind of a team for the competition.



Ultimately it is a tale with very few winners. Any notion that United’s appearance in the tournament would have made a jot of difference to England’s 2006 World Cup bid seems increasingly laughable as time has progressed and bribery allegations have been laid bare. The chaotic nature of the tournament, played against a mish-mash of genuine continental title holders, ex holders and guests did little to inspire interest in the new competition and while the international reputation of Manchester United was hardly dented by the fiasco, the domestic fallout was huge. It’s impossible to say how much the incident contributed to the general malaise around the FA Cup that persists to this day but it’s certainly a significant turning point in the history of the competition. 

It wasn’t all bad, mind. The whole convoluted affair did at least throw up one of the great footballing front pages of all time.

I'm with Caprice.


Words by Andy Gallagher





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