It was only a few weeks ago that the Premier League settled its argument with the players over television payments, narrowly averting a strike, and now, on the eve of the World Cup in Asia, comes news of clubs wanting recompense from the Football Association for the "hire" of players selected to play for England.
Once again, the men who run our top football clubs are revealing their true colours. Or they would be, if they had the guts to put their names to their so far unattributable comments. One complains about lending their business assets to a rival without charge. And we were all thinking everyone was on the same side.
The FA does not pay the players' wages when taking them for England duty but it does share commercial revenue with them and here, of course, lies the rub. There is an awful lot of action that the clubs are not getting a share of. Negotiations are now reaching the final stage for a new group of select sponsors who will support the England team after the World Cup.
The FA makes £175m annually from the England team and has a television contract worth £500m over three years. But the Premier League television rights are worth double that, with worldwide internet potential and image rights, hardly damaged by exposure in an England shirt, running higher still. Even after the Bosman ruling, there must be players whose transfer values are enhanced by playing for England.
The more reasonable among the chairmen are thought to be seeking a contribution of £15,000 per player per match which would cost the FA about £300,000 per match.
In order to safeguard international football, Fifa brought in rules obliging clubs to release players for international matches, but some clubs feel they can defy Fifa and refuse to release players for international friendlies. This would be bad news for the FA chairman Geoff Thompson, who recently followed in the footsteps of his predecessor Keith Wiseman by seeking the support of the British associations to become their Fifa representative.
Other clubs are also making threatening noises about fielding weakened teams in the FA Cup, which, as we have seen this season, would not exactly be unheard of.
Since the advent of professionalism the century before last, the FA has been assailed from time to time by the Football League when clubs looked askance at the toffs making undue profit out of 'their' players. The most priceless of many skirmishes commenced immediately after the Second World War, when Everton succeeded with a motion at a League meeting that the FA should pay to the League half the receipts of all international matches and the Cup final.
There was considerable bad feeling in the 1960s, which culminated in a peace initiative launched by the then Minister for Sport, Eldon Griffiths, who brokered a deal in 1972 which lasted until the formation of the FA Premier League.
For the 20 years of this agreement, which covered the period of the initial explosion of the television rights fees, the FA paid the Football League 25 per cent of the surplus of its international account. When the cheque was received from the FA each year, there was usually an argument about how many members of the international committee it had been deemed necessary to travel on this overseas trip or that.
Throughout his 15 years at the helm at Lancaster Gate, whenever the Football League, or anyone else for that matter, approached the FA for money, one chairman, Sir Bert Millichip, a noted club cricketer in his younger days, had a stock reply which no one ever effectively countered. "The Association has many mouths to feed," he would say, playing the straightest of bats.
Somewhat naively, I hoped the arguments about money would disappear when the FA freed the leading clubs from the shackles of the Football League a decade ago. After all, they did move willingly into the FA's Premier League. To ease the path towards a new spirit of unity, I proposed that all 20 Premier League chairmen should be co-opted onto the ruling council of the FA, but this was a step too far for the council. The 25 per cent payment was scrapped, a case of the FA having the quids, but not the pros, though.
Those FA back-benchers have less say nowadays, so, if the dispute escalates to the point where the Premier League chairmen accuse FA chief executive Adam Crozier of empire-building for running a successful business, as they did Gordon Taylor, they will find the charge has already been made from within.
Millichip was right to stress the governing body's many responsibilities to the game. The clubs' are only to their shareholders. And their fans.Reuse content