By Manuel Veth –
This January, Futbolgrad had the opportunity to attend the Florida Cup 2016 in Fort Lauderdale, and Orlando. The games in Orlando were played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, which is part of the Walt Dinsey World Resort complex.
The tournament had a very Brazilian flavour, as the Florida Cup was not only partly organized by Brazilian companies, the tournament also included four Brazilian teams—Corinthians São Paulo, Fluminense from Rio de Janeiro, Atlético Mineiro (Belo Horizonte), and Internacional Porto Alegre. The German Bundesliga also sponsored the event, and sent two clubs to compete in the tournament—Bayer 04 Leverkusen, and FC Schalke 04. In addition, the tournament included the Columbian team Santa Fe Bogotá, the Fort Lauderdale Strikers from the North American Soccer League (NASL), and finally Shakhtar Donetsk from Ukraine.
Florida Cup 2016 – More than just a promotional tournament
Our main focus was, of course, on Shakhtar Donetsk’s participation in the tournament, and Futbolgrad was able to attend both of the club’s matches at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando.
We were also able to attend Schalke 04’s match against Atlético Mineiro at the home stadium of the Fort Lauderdale Strikers, about a 40 minutes drive north of Miami—Atlético won the match 3-0. In general, Futbolgrad appreciated, the intensity of the tournament as all clubs seemed to take the competition seriously, and when possible fielded their star players.
Furthermore, all clubs made an effort to give fans in the United States an opportunity to meet their favourite players, as fans were able to both collect autographs and take photographs. North American journalists, also, were given plenty of opportunity to talk to coaches and players right after the game, often on the pitch.
For some clubs, however, the training camp in the United States was not necessarily the perfect way to prepare for the second half of the season—or in the case of the Brazilian clubs the 2016 season. Schalke’s coach André Breitenreiter, for example, told Futbolgrad, “The training conditions in the United States are okay. Of course football or soccer is not the number one sport in the USA, hence one can’t expect to have the best fields all the time.” Yet Bundesliga clubs recognized the importance of playing in the States over the winter break as the league tries to close the marketing gap between them and the English Premier League.
The same is true for Shakhtar Donetsk, which, as a club, was travelling to the Americas for the second year in a row—last year the club held its winter preparations in Brazil. The club’s participation at the tournament also made sense because Shakhtar has strong support in Brazil and playing against Brazilian teams—both games were live on television in Brazil—will further strengthen the club’s marketing position.
Florida Cup 2016 – Organizational Problems
There were, however, some smaller issues with the organization of the tournament. All emails with information regarding the tournament were sent out only in Portuguese. Furthermore, the organizers failed to announce Lucescu’s press conference after the Fluminense game, which led to a tweet by the Orlando City blog The Mane Land, which stated that Lucescu had refused to give a press conference.
Futbolgrad, however, reported on the incident as follows: “In defence of Lucescu, Shakhtar has to travel 106 miles from the ESPN Wide World Sport Complex to Bradenton where the IMG Academy is located. Furthermore, the Brazilian organizers failed to send out a notice in English that the press conference was going to take place, along with the details about where and when it would occur, which meant that most of the English speaking press failed to show up. Futbolgrad was one of only two media representatives to show up to Shakhtar’s short-lived press event.”
What followed was that after Shakhtar’s intense second game against Corinthians—a narrow 3-2 loss for the Ukrainians, who also had their defender Oleksandr Kucher sent off with a red card—Futbolgrad became the center of attention at the post-game press conference. The Mane Land’s story had made a big impact with the Ukrainian press where it was widely reported that Lucescu had refused to talk with the media, but no mention was made of the fact that it was the organizers who had messed up.
When Futbolgrad asked Lucescu about the intensity of the match, Lucescu remembered our presence after the previous match and, mistakenly believing that we were the source of the tweet, said, “Excuse me, is it you who wrote that I didn’t want to talk to journalists last time? Let me explain it. I came for the press conference, waited for the organizers for 15 minutes—no one showed up. What you have written about me is not true. It’s inappropriate on your part.” Futbolgrad responded to Lucescu by pointing out that the tweet that had been reported in Ukraine did not originate from Futbolgrad, but rather from The Mane Land Twitter account. After a long discussion Lucescu said, “Excuse me if I got this wrong”.
Hence, while the tournament was an exciting event at which one could see great football, and make connections with journalists and clubs, the Lucescu episode highlighted a lack of organization that ended up causing both Futbolgrad and Shakhtar Donetsk to receive negative attention. Another point to criticise is the lack of advertisement in the major city centers, for locals were largely unaware that the tournament was taking place. Given the extensive South American population in Florida, promotion of the event should be be given greater priority for future tournaments.
More Photos from Florida Cup 2016
Manuel Veth is a freelance journalist, and PhD candidate at King’s College London. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. His thesis is entitled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States”, and was defended in November, and will be available after revisions in the summer. Follow Manuel on Twitter @homosovieticus.