Graham Kelly: Unfair dealings as clubs hold on to all the aces

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The Independent Online

English football has an awful lot going for it at the moment. But there are some things that are wrong. It was graceless, undignified and clumsy for the Football Association and Fifa to apply pressure on the football associations of Australia and France to select weakened teams for their friendly match in Melbourne on 11 November.

If you add weakness and arrogance to the charge sheet, you just about begin to approach the scale of the collective dèbâcle. This is not simply a lucrative match involving the world champions,which has been in the calendar for a long time, but it is also about Australia's preparations for a World Cup play-off and, as such, they would like their best players to be available.

Last Sunday at Deepdale the Preston fans took great delight in reminding Kevin Keegan that he had messed up England. Maybe history will record that Keegan was unsuccessful, but will it also recall that, rather than pick a weakened team, he chose not to play a friendly match in April 2000 and opted instead to remain on cordial terms with the Premier League?

The clubs conveniently overlook the fact that international status, particularly that of World Cup winners, enhances the transfer value and box office appeal of their players. And did anyone mention glory?

Securing the availability of players for international commitments is a long-running war of attrition, I've found. One rule which helped the international managers but didn't do an awful lot to promote trust with their mates in club management was the introduction of the provision that injured players still had to report for examination by the England medical staff. This came in after Neil Webb read of his "injury" on Teletext in 1992, after being withdrawn by Manchester United. Another player United have had their international problems with has been Dwight Yorke, although the powerful football politician Jack Warner has usually been clever enough to get his man for Trinidad and Tobago when it mattered.

I once fell out with Terry Venables over the World Youth Championship Finals in Australia. He was chief executive of Tottenham and I was chief executive of the FA. We agreed to limit selections to one player per club and a doubt arose about Nick Barmby. Terry wanted him to play in the sixth round of the FA Cup, before flying out to Australia for the England team's second and third qualifying matches He thought the player would learn more playing for Spurs' first team than for England's youth team in tournament conditions against some of the best young players in the world.

Lawyers had to be called in when the whereabouts of the player's passport could not be ascertained and it quickly became apparent to me that appeasement was not a viable policy when dealing with powerful football clubs, because once they had you on the run, that was where you would stay.

The delays in the Martin Keown case at the start of the season and the one-match ban for an offence, which, had it been dealt with by the referee, would have incurred a three-match penalty, demonstrated that there are still lots of inconsistencies in the disciplinary system and Lee Bowyer and Danny Mills had to wait ages for their disciplinary hearings, but what about Roy Keane's attempted attack on Alan Shearer after being sent off by referee Steve Bennett at St James' Park? I am not in any way anti-United, but I find it strange that no action has been contemplated by the governing body for a loss of control which would have had far greater consequences had it not been for David Beckham's prompt restraint of his captain.

And with a clutch of Premiership players successfully appealing against red cards there is little indication yet that referees have got to grips with divers like Tahar El Khalej of Southampton whose bizarre antics led to Aston Villa's Dion Dublin being sent off.

No amount of sending-off controversies now will save The Premiership its early Saturday evening slot on ITV1. I hope this was a scheduling mistake, and not a fundamental weakness with the programme, because the latter could indicate the start of a worrying trend, the possibility that the burgeoning bubble of recent years is about to burst, that the television market has reached saturation level.

Football and television should take care. Television killed its own football market a couple of decades ago by tampering with well-established viewing patterns, when Match of the Day moved to Sunday afternoon and alternated with The Big Match. Football's cash flow is dangerously dependent upon a fickle paymaster and I hope the cavalier treatment of the game cannot be repeated.

Grahamkelly@btinternet.com

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