How Good Is World Cup Soccer, Really?

Fight disinformation. Get a daily recap of the facts that matter. Sign up for the free Mother Jones newsletter.


The internet is awash in soccer explainers for Americans, and naturally Vox has one of its own. What sets it apart is Joseph Stromberg’s acknowledgment of something sort of odd: “The World Cup is the pinnacle of soccer.”

That’s obviously true. But can anyone explain why? Soccer players spend the vast bulk of their time playing for clubs—Manchester United, Real Madrid, etc., all of which have fanatic followings. They spend only a tiny amount of time playing for their national team. That might not matter in an individual sport, but it surely matters in a team sport, where playing time together makes a big difference. So logic tells me that World Cup soccer, made up of teams that play together only occasionally and sporadically, ought be played at a lower level than club soccer. It’s basically second rate.

So here’s my question for serious soccer fans. Is World Cup play second rate? If not, why? If it’s actually just as good as top-level club play, how can that be possible given the limited playing time the players have together? Is it just a result of the relatively small number of World Cup teams, which means that only the top players play? Or what?

UPDATE: The consensus in comments is that, technically, World Cup play is indeed inferior to top-level club play. But of course, World Cup has a uniquely intense atmosphere and lots of nationalistic fervor, which makes it a great event even if the level of play isn’t quite at the top rank. Sounds reasonable to me.

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you'll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

ONE MORE QUICK THING:

Or at least we hope. It’s fall fundraising time, and we’re trying to raise $250,000 to help fund Mother Jones’ journalism during a shorter than normal three-week push.

If you’re reading this, a fundraising pitch at the bottom of an article, you must find our team’s reporting valuable and we hope you’ll consider supporting it with a donation of any amount right now if you can.

It’s really that simple. But if you’d like to read a bit more, our membership lead, Brian Hiatt, has a post for you highlighting some of our newsroom's impressive, impactful work of late—including two big investigations in just one day and covering voting rights the way it needs to be done—that we hope you’ll agree is worth supporting.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate