Football: Fifa called in over conflict of interest

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The Independent Online
The English transfer system is in danger of being thrown into chaos as players are given the chance to take advantage of new contractual regulations. And such is the potential for corruption that the Football Association are urgently seeking assurances from the game's world governing body.

Last year, in the wake of the Bosman case, Fifa introduced a system under which players are entitled to sign a pre-contract with a new club six months before the deal with their current club expires. It has so far been used only when players move from one country to another, with players pledging themselves for a new season so as to avoid a summer of confusion. Now it has emerged, however, that some players are wondering if it can be invoked for moves in the same country.

With most English contracts running until 1 July, on 1 January many players could theoretically have begun to negotiate with new clubs while still playing for their own. At the moment, FA rules forbid it, unlike Fifa's.

All sorts of problems arise. Take, for example, the case of two players out of contract in the summer at Arsenal, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn. What if they signed pre-contracts with, say, Aston Villa, whom they play in the last match of the season? Villa may need to win to avoid relegation. Do Arsenal rest players they may need to realise their own ambitions?

It seems anathema for an English player not to give his all - as, doubtless, Bould and Winterburn will over the coming months. But they would surely not want to send down a club they were joining and they would have to be omitted. In other cases, imagine watching a game on the last day of the season and wondering which players were out of contract, and who had deals with new clubs.

Not only that, but what will be the reaction of supporters to players who are simply playing out time this spring? Then again, it is also possible that the player could go on loan to another club, giving him three interests.

Clubs worried by such possibilities recently began to contact the FA, who in turn wrote to Fifa on 22 December. "This has cropped up very quickly. We are asking Fifa whether the provisions are going to be mandatory within England," said the FA's spokesman Steve Double.

"Until we get that decision we are saying that a player remains contracted to his club until a transfer or until he is out of contract." The FA expect more information after a meeting of Fifa's Players' Status Committee at the end of January.

In the meantime, what is to stop a player, or a club, challenging FA rules by citing Fifa's? National associations and governing bodies are so fearful of expensive and damaging litigation after Bosman that they may acquiesce and give players yet more freedom of movement.

Brendon Batson, of the Professional Footballers' Association, who are mindful of conflict between what is best for their members and what is good for the game, says he is awaiting developments. As are other national associations.

And so, with fans having to get used to players becoming less and less committed to their clubs these days, are we all.

HOW much store is placed in Britain in Fifa's expertise will be seen also when the Department of Education and Employment come to consider Tottenham's appeal against the refusal of a work permit for their coach Christian Gross's fitness trainer Fritz Schmid.

There are several curious elements to the case, not least that if Schmid was not in possession of the permit, why has he been seen at the Spurs' training ground bearing more cones than Mister Softee?

Schmid's application was turned down as he was not "internationally established at the highest level". But then in his chosen field he has followed the same career path as Gross, who received his permit within days.

Fifa are willing to supply evidence of Schmid's credentials, which should override the advice of the British physiotherapist contacted for his opinion. Naturally, he would have preferred a local to get any job.

But how important is a fitness guru, anyway? At Manchester United, you never hear of any fancy foreign ideas, but then at Blackburn, Roy Hodgson's Italian expert has clearly made a difference. Libero is all for the best methods from overseas, which United's studies have already embraced. Tottenham, even if some of their players have reservations, should take heart from the persistence of Liverpool with Brad Friedel.

IT is clearly not just by negotiating TV contracts worth around pounds 135m a season, or landing multifarious sponsorship and marketing deals, that the Premiership has become so rich. A Christmas card from them arrived at the home of a colleague bearing on the envelope that traditional season's greeting: "Postage to pay."

THE Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger was making a good job of denying the latest gossip - can't remember what it was; something to do with someone turning up to training with bad breath. "Rumours," he scoffed. "The second biggest sport in this country." Quick as a flash came the retort, "You don't have to tell me that", from the game tabloid reporter who put the hearsay to him.