International ‘Break’–Club vs Country

Now comes time when most true football fans sit back and watch their star players head off to international duty. But, if you are anything like me, you hope simply that your players come back home healthy from the International ‘Break’

Reading ESPNSoccernet today to see the day’s headlines, I came across this article about the rift between the G-14 and UEFA. The rift mainly centers on two lawsuits that are ongoing with regards to clubs recieving compensation when players are injured on international duty. One of the lawsuits is in French court, and the other is pendingin the European Court of Justice, the highest court in Europe.

Why shouldn’t a club receive compensation for a player that returns injured after international duty. Michael Owen is the posterboy for the Club v Country debate. Here is a paragraph straight from his Wiki article.

A damaged anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, sustained in the first minute of the group match against Sweden at the 2006 World Cup, kept Owen out of regular football for nearly a year, until April 2007. Owen’s injury fanned the “club or country” dispute between clubs and the international authorities, as the Football Association‘s insurance policy would not fully reimburse Newcastle United for Owen’s salary of over £120,000 a week, or the costs of employing another player to cover for him; Newcastle chairman Freddy Shepherd threatened to sue the FA for compensation.

In the case of Michael Owen, Newcastle basically spent a truckload of money on Owen, and in turn got a player that was on the shelf for an entire year. One could argue, “But wait, that was the World Cup, these are international breaks.” It is still the same argument, however you slice it. If you are going off to the World Cup or if you are playing local rival Dijibuti, you are still playing for your country, and if you are injured, your country should pay your club compensation.

There is a serious problem with the argument, and that deals mostly with the players themselves. If a player is called up for his country and refuses, all of the sudden he is a ‘traitor’ and fans turn on that player. When Liverpool’s Jamie Carragher decided to not play for England, fans were remarkably angry. Carragher retired from international football, putting an end to that arguement.

But, what would have happened if Carragher played and tore his ACL. Now, Liverpool has their star back on the shelf for a year and not only that, but they are out all of the money that they have put into Carragher. It brings up the old saying

‘You’re damned if you do, you’re damned if you don’t’.

Clubs should be compensated if a player is injured on their time. Clubs rely on the players for revenue, and more importantly, are paying some of these players upwards of $100 million dollars over the life of their contracts. No one wants to see their lead striker go to play a Euro 2008 qualifier and then come back hobbling for 2 months when the season isn’t even half way over. Coaches are the same way, most recently Rafa Benitez publicly voiced his opinion in the beginning of the season when Steven Gerrard suffered an injury, but still was called up to duty for England.

I tried to think of other examples in sports that are similar to what happens in football, but I couldn’t think of any.  It really is a football problem. In the NFL and the NBA, some players actually have clauses in their contracts that bar them from doing anything stupid that will injure them (Cue Kellen Winslow and his motorcycle).  Every year you get the NFL player that was playing a game of pickup basketball and tears his knee up.  In the end, sometimes the player has to pay up, even forfitting his salary for the entire year because he was hurt doing something that was not team related.  But in our case, since football players are playing for their country, their country is responsible for anything that happens, good or bad.

Think about it, countries are the ones that benefit the most when clubs are pumping millions into players and they are at their peak of fitness.  Then they let the players go, and the clubs get screwed when their star, in whom they have invested millions, come back banged up, or even attacked like Freddy Kanouté was.

This is a wide-spread problem, as most top flight European clubs see their players shipped off for international duty during the next two weeks and simply countries are responsible for players when they are playing in their shirt, end of story.

I know most fans, including myself, sit back and watch the qualifiers to get our fill of football, but also hoping that the international ‘break’ doesn’t hit too close to home.

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3 Responses

  1. I generally agree with you, but what would happen if a player earning a large salary is injured during international play and is out for an extended period of time, but his national association cannot afford to compensate his club? This is a realistic scenario for players from developing countries where the national associations have few revenue sources; being forced to pay his salary could easily take a large chunk of their budget, or even bankrupt them. Should FIFA assume some of the financial burden involved?

  2. In that case FIFA could establish a fund that would aid countries in this case. That isn’t always the answer, since I can only assume the money would come from other countries, or a pool of money from somewhere (Maybe Sepp Blatter’s pocket?)

    That is the toughest part of the argument, that is what do you do with countries such as Mali that house a striker like Kanouté who is worth more than the country itself.

  3. […] International Duty Posted on January 22, 2008 by Ryan Any readers of this site know of my utter despise when players head off on international duty. Case and point: My beloved Sevilla currently without […]

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