Compensation culture

Europe's big guns are pushing for reimbursement for releasing players for internationals. Steve D Wilson assesses their chances for success

Meaningful internationals are back this month with the resumption of World Cup qualifying. Each round brings murmurs from Europe’s leading clubs about reimbursement for releasing players. The G-14 group have been leaning heavily on FIFA, saying that as compensation national FAs should pay the players salaries for the duration of major international events and have threatened to take legal action if the ruling bodies refuse to negotiate. Their argument is that they make huge expenditures turning players into recognisable names, then see them use that status to create huge revenue for someone else.

Manchester United chief executive David Gill, whose club are among the 18 members of G-14, summed up their stance: “There has to be scope for FIFA to slice some of the profits to repay clubs who provide the assets. The governing bodies generate vast amounts of revenue through an asset they get for free."

They have been pushing for FIFA to hand over 20 per cent of the profits from the 2006 World Cup – expected to be £200 million – to the clubs of the players involved. FIFA president Sepp Blatter is refusing to talk with G-14, effectively passing the problem on to the individual national associations. “We invite the federations to a World Cup and we pay for travel, accommodation and prize money. What they do with that money is their problem,” he said.

If G-14 manage to push through the policy for World Cups and European Championships it is hard to see them stopping there. Turning on individual national associations to claim payment for qualifiers and friendlies would surely be next. Theoretically each player will warrant the same reimbursement, but it seems unlikely that a G-14 club would accept receiving the same for their gálacticos as small clubs would for less marketable players. It would need to be a substantial amount per player, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth the clubs fighting for. Bolivia’s offer to give the proceeds from their friendlies in 2004 to the clubs was turned down after it was calculated they’d receive an insignificant fee.

Clubs would surely see that having their players called up by a national team likely to qualify for major championships is more profitable than them being called up by a smaller or poorer nation. You wouldn’t need to be a cynic to think that pressure would be put on the player to take the more valuable option, even if it meant neglecting his roots. African nations have already lost too many players to Europe: how much more pressure would Frédéric Kanouté have come under not to opt for Mali if a possible future France call-up would have proved lucrative for Spurs? At least if clubs were being paid for call-ups we would see fewer players suffering injuries that miraculously heal before their next domestic game.

Gill’s argument that club’s are providing their assets to the nation is also flawed. Players don’t sign a contract to say they will represent a country. They automatically become available for selection the moment they’re born. In a sense it’s the clubs who are paying to borrow the players back from the nation each week.

Neither side looks like budging. Blatter doubts that the clubs would sue FIFA or UEFA, but G-14 have already threatened to pull their club’s players from the Confederations Cup and boycott the Club World Championship. Only they know how far they wold be willing to go and how much damage to international football they are capable of making. Ultimately, the big club’s greed is set to strike another detrimental blow to the good of the game as a whole.

From WSC 218 April 2005. What was happening this month