Olympic resistance is too late for Liverpool

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The Independent Football

Liverpool are set to be the major losers in the dispute over Olympic call-ups after two German clubs were given the backing of one of European football's most powerful consortiums to pull their players out of the Beijing tournament. The European Club Association, of which Liverpool are a member, said yesterday that clubs had "no legal obligation" to release their players next month.

The announcement, made by the ECA's chairman and former Germany international Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, looks like it will be too late for Liverpool who have already lost Javier Mascherano to Argentina's pre-tournament training camp. In addition to their midfielder, one of Argentina's quota of three over-23 players, Liverpool have also lost Lucas Leiva (Brazil) and Ryan Babel (Netherlands) to their countries' Olympic squads.

Rafael Benítez had initially explored ways in which the players could be kept by their club but admitted defeat before the end of last season. However, Werder Bremen and Schalke of the Bundesliga have refused to budge and are seeking, with the support of the ECA, to have their Brazilian players, Diego and Marcio Rafinha respectively, released from Olympic duty.

Benítez may come to regret the absence of his three players by the time they return at the end of August, especially given the success some of his rivals have had. While Mascherano has been called up by Argentina, Manchester United have managed to resist Argentina's attempts to do the same with Carlos Tevez and have rejected South Korea's request to pick Park Ji-Sung.

The ECA – formerly known as the G-14 group, of which Liverpool were one of only two English founder members eight years ago – gave their support to the German clubs after Fifa had made a half-hearted attempt to intervene in the dispute. "As the Olympics are not included in the harmonised international match calendar, the obligation to release players for national team matches according to the Fifa regulations does not apply," Rummenigge said.

The agreement between Fifa and the International Olympic Committee compels clubs to release players under the age of 23 who are selected for Olympic squads. There is no statutory provision for the quota of three players aged over 23 who are instead released on a "goodwill" basis – a goodwill that has been markedly lacking as Barcelona try to prevent Lionel Messi joining up and Real Madrid do the same with Robinho.

In the absence of a rule obliging clubs to make over-23 players available, Blatter yesterday appealed somewhat hopefully for "solidarity within the football family" to resolve the situation. As for those under the age of 23 he said: "The release of [under-23] players has always been mandatory for all clubs. The same principle shall apply for Beijing 2008."

With that ruling later rejected by the ECA it will now be up to individual clubs to review their situation. As well as Liverpool, other Premier League clubs affected include Manchester United (Luis Anderson), Chelsea (Salomon Kalou), Manchester City (Jo), and Blackburn Rovers (Ryan Nelsen). City manager Mark Hughes said yesterday that the club were trying to look on the inclusion of £19m striker Jo as "something positive" but added: "We're a little bit frustrated by the fact that he's gone to the Olympics, ideally we'd have preferred him to stay with us but we have to respect that."

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