Europe's ongoing club-versus-country debate intensified yesterday when the powerful G14 lobby, which includes Arsenal, Manchester United and Real Madrid, threatened to take their case to the European Commission unless they receive proper compensation for releasing players for international duty.
The élite cartel, which is not officially recognised by football's international governing body, Fifa, but which has considerable influence in Europe, want a share of World Cup and European Championship revenues, partially to offset the very high wages being paid to players such as David Beckham, Michael Owen and Sol Campbell.
Earlier this year the G14 deposited an official complaint with the Swiss equivalent of the Office of Fair Trading in Bern over Fifa's refusal to share the costs of players competing in major finals. The case is still under review but the organisation is now considering taking their case to EC headquarters in Brussels.
"This is certainly being envisaged," said the G14 general manager, Thomas Kurth. "We need to know whether Fifa's regulations comply with the law or not. We don't think they do. If you are a company and your workers walk away to generate revenue for a competitor, is that fair? The success of tournaments like the World Cup is down to those on the field who are paid by their clubs."
Speaking at the European Football Finance conference in London, Kurth denied that clubs were simply being greedy, stealing vital income streams away from Fifa's grass-roots development programmes in Third World countries which benefit hugely from World Cup profits.
"We believe that from these huge revenues, there must be a portion which goes back to the clubs who release the players," he said. "It's not about being greedy, it's about compromising with clubs whose players turn international games into the spectacles they are."
"When these rules were set up, football was not the business it is today. All we are asking for is a joint venture instead of the rules being decided by people who reap all the benefit without assuming any of the risk. These tournaments generate hundreds of millions of pounds but nothing comes back to the clubs. There has to be a balance."
Under Fifa rules, players are automatically suspended if they are refused permission to play for their country unless there are mitigating circumstances such as injury. Kurth believes this, too, is unfair. "When 20 players are summoned to, say, Japan for a friendly, right between two league games, the clubs believe that's making fun of them. Fifa says there is no solution, but that's not true."
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