Soccer Row May Force Players to Choose Between Club, Country

Soccer players in Europe may have to choose between national teams and clubs as a dispute between their employers and the sport’s governing bodies over match scheduling and finances threatens the game’s structure.

The European Club Association, a group representing about 200 of the continent’s teams including Barcelona, Manchester United and AC Milan, wants the issues addressed before its memorandum of understanding with FIFA and European soccer’s governing body UEFA expires in 2014.

When that agreement ends, Europe’s top clubs will no longer be legally bound to play in the Champions League, the sport’s richest club competition, or release their players for international exhibition matches or tournaments. Clubs may be forced into decisive action if their concerns are ignored, according to association board member Umberto Gandini.

“We are the ones who invest the money, we are the ones who develop the players, we are the ones who give the players a reason to play,” Gandini, a director of Italian champion AC Milan, said in a telephone interview. “Without the clubs, what do you think they are going to do?”

Disputes over the number of national team matches scheduled by FIFA, the governing body’s reluctance to pay toward insurance contributions and an increase in competition for television and sponsorship contracts come at a time when FIFA’s governance is under scrutiny because of corruption claims against senior officials. More than a third of FIFA’s executive board has been suspended or accused of wrongdoing in the past nine months.

‘Keep on Fighting’

Clubs are being “vocal and aggressive” on the issues because they “don’t think our opinion and inputs are taken into proper consideration by the governing body,” Gandini said.

“We will keep on fighting to find the right balance between national association football and club football,” he said. “Into the future I cannot see exactly what will happen, but for sure the ultimate position could well be a refusal of cooperation or the refusal to accept the imposition of certain rules.”

FIFA President Sepp Blatter told reporters in Rio de Janeiro yesterday that the Zurich-based organization needs to find a consensus.

European clubs supplied three quarters of the players at last year’s World Cup in South Africa. Stars including Bayern Munich’s Arjen Robben and Chelsea striker Fernando Torres returned hurt from the tournament and missed the start of the new season. FIFA’s decision last year to introduce an August date for international exhibition games angered clubs because it falls days before the start of most European leagues.

The clubs had asked FIFA to consult them before ruling on changes to the match calendar.

Television and Marketing

UEFA’s decision to centralize its television and marketing contracts for all World Cup and European qualification games also has upset clubs because it reduces the amount of money they are able to make through similar agreements.

“They are going to the same pockets in Europe,” Gandini said. “The pockets that are paying for the Champions League in 2014, they are going to have UEFA who’s going to offer them, against interest of clubs, the centralized activities of the national teams.”

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal. LEARN MORE