English clubs unlikely to recall Olympians

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The Independent Online

England's top clubs seem set not to rock the Olympic boat despite a landmark ruling in Switzerland confirming they do not have to release their players.

Although the judgement itself, reached by the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, concerned only Lionel Messi of Barcelona, plus Schalke's Brazilian defender Rafinha and fellow countryman Diego from Werder Bremen, it covers all players.

Half the Premier League have lost men to the Olympics, a tournament for under-23s supplemented by three over-age players, and the news from Switzerland is of particular interest to injury-hit Manchester United, whose midfielder Anderson is with the Brazil squad, and Liverpool, who are facing a midfield problem ahead of next week's Champions League qualifier with Standard Liege.

With three players in China, Rafael Benitez's squad was already stretched before Steven Gerrard suffered a thigh injury against Valerenga on Tuesday night.

Without Gerrard and knowing Javier Mascherano and Lucas are at the Olympics along with Ryan Babel, Benitez could be forced to play Xabi Alonso, which would cup-tie the Spaniard and make him less attractive to potential purchasers such as Juventus.

Club officials were still digesting the news before deciding their next course of action but the initial feeling was that the players, having already reported for duty with their respective countries, would remain where they were.

Equally, the prospect of an end to Olympic football, a significant event considering a Great Britain team is due to compete in 2012 at the London Games, has been played down by English football chiefs.

The Premier League have declined to comment on the ruling but with Fifa's strategic committee currently going through a review of the much-maligned fixture calendar, the feeling is Olympic competition could be preserved at the expense of other friendly dates.