Liverpool Does the Right Thing: German Clubs Do Not


On the European Continent and on the British Isles the view of the Olympic football Tournament is completely different than in the rest of the world. In Europe the tournament is seen as more of a nuisance than anything, while among those in the Western Hemisphere and in Africa it is seen as big deal.

Nigeria and Cameroon are both recent champions of the event, and after both nations achieved their Gold Medals, mass celebrations consumed the nation. Mexico fired its national coach, the biggest hero in Mexican football history Hugo Sanchez because he failed to qualify the team for the Olympics, despite a month earlier, achieving the nation’s first result on American soil against the arch rival United States in nine years. Brazil’s Dunga has survived a tumultuous World Cup qualifying campaign thus far, because he is seen as the man to bring home an Olympic Gold Medal, and Brazil did not want to change coaches so soon before the Olympics.

The United States puts more emphasis on Olympic Football than any tournament outside of the World Cup, and because for years the Olympics themselves were used as a propaganda tool by the USA, I’ve heard debate within American soccer circles as to whether or not winning the Olympic Gold Medal would actually do more for the game domestically than winning the World Cup. While I do not subscribe to this view in the least bit, it simply demonstrates how important the Olympic tournament is considered to many people. In fact, one of the best forwards then United States has ever produced, Brian McBride has come out of international retirement just for this event, because of its importance to US Soccer. Tim Vickery, who understands Latin Football better than just about any European writer, explains why this event is so important to so many in an outstanding piece.

But European clubs for the most part are more annoyed and bothered by this event than they are interested in it. Liverpool is losing more than just about any club on the planet. Ryan Babel will be featuring for Holland, Javier Mascherano for Argentina, and Lucas for Brazil. This puts the Reds behind the eight ball in the first few weeks of the Premier League season. Rafa Benetiz isn’t happy about it, but unlike some of the clubs in Germany, Liverpool understands that FIFA’s declaration that all selected U-23 players must be released is to be honored. But even more admirable is that Liverpool has released Mascherano, who is an overage player and whose release Liverpool legally could have prevented.

Chelsea has released Solomon Kalou. Blackburn has released Ryan Nelson (an overage player) and Manchester United has allowed Anderson to join Brazil. However two German clubs are refusing to release their Brazilian players: Werder Bremen with Diego, perhaps the best player in the Bundesliga last season, and Schalke with Rafinha. Both players left their clubs this week without permission to join Brazil’s training. This stands in contrast not only to the example set by the three aforementioned English clubs, but by AC Milan who just signed Ronaldinho and have made him the center of a major worldwide marketing campaign. Despite this, Milan has allowed Ronaldinho to join Brazil’s squad, perhaps because Italian clubs are more used to this situation than other European clubs: Italy has competed in more Olympic Football tournaments than any other nation. (Believe it or not, the United States has qualified for the second most Olympic Football tournaments, and would tied with Italy for the most appearances had the US not barely missed qualification for the 2004 tournament).

What’s even more disturbing are the lengths the two German clubs are going to in order to try and stop players from exercising their free will and representing their country. The Court of Arbitration for Sport will hear a case being brought before it by the clubs and backed by the European Club Association to block U-23 players from joining their national teams in the Olympics. Werder Bremen has also refused to allow Dusko Tosic of Serbia to join his team and has reportedly confiscated his passport.

Olympic football is very important to many across the globe. As European clubs become more and more global in both their squad makeup and in their marketing they must learn to bend on these sorts of issues. Liverpool to their credit has reluctantly complied as they continue to try and build their global brand. The German clubs, already in a league whose international stature is waning have made a fatal mistake in the court of international football public opinion with their unreasonable stand. Though many in Europe whose focus is the club game and European tournaments may applaud Schalke and Bremen for their stands, the Bundesliga is no doubt soon to take a major beating in perception and respect level in Latin America.

While Olympic Football takes place outside the regular FIFA blackout windows, clubs in Europe must understand the importance of this event and also assume the risk for signing high profile internationals. Liverpool, as a more popular and successful club from an international standpoint clearly understands this better than Werder Breman and Schalke 04. Perhaps this helps to explain why the Premier League is head and shoulders above the Bundesliga these days when it comes to international recognition and popularity.

23 thoughts on “Liverpool Does the Right Thing: German Clubs Do Not”

  1. The Olympics have always been a celebration of non-professional & youth talent. It’s sad when millionaires want steal the glory away from amateurs.

    The fact that Brian McBride is going to play for the US Men’s Olympic team doesn’t reflect very well on him. The US should be looking for new talent with the Olympics, not mediocre has beens.

  2. How does it reflect badly on McBride, he is playing for his country? I didnt know that reflected badly on a person. If you want to keep overage players out then change the rules to make it only u-23.

    I dont see how these clubs are going to get away with not releasing these players when they are under 23 and it was made clear that all u-23s had to be released. I hope all the clubs that are pulling this crap have to release thier players and face sanctions for this.

  3. FIFA have a main event schedule which regulates which tournaments and events the clubs have to send their players to. Fifa has not included the Olympic tournament in their main event schedule and that means that clubs don’t have to relese players. Bremen, Schalke and Barca have a case here.

    The Olympic football tournament used to be a youth team event. It should stay that way. Barca has to go into a CL-qualification game and needs Messi. The german clubs start their season soon and need their players too. For the english teams sending players to the Olympics is easier because their season starts later. Otherwise they wouldn’t send them either.

  4. This should be amatuers only. Could also use the olympics as a trial stage for new rules (eg goal line technology, new offside rules etc)
    as the olympics in general are not that important and mainly a bit off fun (watching sports you’ve never previously heard off is fun) it could be useful to use it as a tester for the more important competitions.

  5. The days of the Olympics being for amatuers has been over since 1992 and even before then it is widely thought that countries throughout the world would kickback monies to the athletes competing. When people like stonyk and Bryan SF say only amatuers should be in the tournament are you saying that only 14 and 15 year old schoolboys should be competing since a lot of players sign contracts making them professionals when they are 16 years old? The Olympics is about the best of the world playing the best of the world. If it were up to me I would allow all ages to compete in the Olympic Soccer Tournament………………………

  6. The Olympics are viewed in the US as the world sporting event. Some in Europe think that Euro 2008 was more important, but thats another story.

    Kartik gives a interesting perspective that the popularity results from the political arena, and in part it may well be. However, American Olympic hero’s and interest pre-date the Second World War. Jessie Owens anyone! In addition , when ABC made a commitment to televise the games to the American audience with the outstanding sports reporter Jim McKay in the lead, the games became a treat for American TV viewers every 4 years who were hungry for daily sports of whatever sort. I can not explain to everyone what a treat it was in the 60’s and 70’s to have a sporting event broadcast every day for two weeks, night and day. It was special.

    Bryan SF, you are a dead wrong about McBride. He has national pride and thats why he wants to be there. Being an Olympic team member means something to people from Chicago. Old fashion idea I know.

    For the US Mens Soccer program winning an Olympic medal will be considered a great achievement. We know enough about the WC now to know it’s the real prize, but we want the Gold!

  7. I come from the perspective as a fan of the Bundesliga with this piece, bryan in SF as I know you are. We may be the only two people who frequent this site who took a complete pass on Chelsea/Liverpool last year to watch Bayern-Bremen at the same time. I laughed when people complained about how defensive and dull the English match was because I had seen the best match of the year.

    But the problem to me here is that these Bundesliga clubs

    a) Do not respect FIFA
    b) Show little respect for the football culture in Brazil which ironic considering the great number if Brazilian players who have moved to Germany in the last decade
    c) Are imposing a very qualified and bias view towards their players.

    As I said in my piece Liverpool has lost more than any club in the world to these Olympics. But Rafa and the Reds brass probably know the importance of this tournament to the nations who have qualified (or attempted to qualify which obviously the UK has never attempted).

    We can argue whether this should be an amateur event. I believe the Olympics lost a lot when it ceased being an amateur only event. However at this time the Olympics are what they are: a massive international professional sporting event. The likes of Diego and Rafinha raised in the Brazilian football culture would be dishonored in every way possible by not participating so they don’t miss maybe two league matches. Considering everything Diego did for Bremen especially after the disloyalty of Klose going and signing with Bayern, Bremen’s title rival last year, don’t you think the club owes him the opportunity to represent his country in the second biggest sporting event on the planet?

    If you speak to South Americans here in South Florida they are gearing up for this tournament as if it were the “mini World Cup.” This wasn’t always the case but this year they are taking it more seriously than Copa America.

    In addition, as someone who follows the American game closely McBride along with Taylor Twellman are really the only attacking players I’d trust to wear the US shirt right now. While we all rave about the potential of Jozy Altidore I saw in person during the U-23 qualifiers how ineffective Jozy can be if he is marked out of a game by two defenders. Freddy Adu and Dax McCarty basically had to carry our team to qualification without Jozy’s help.

    For a point of reference as to how seriously Olympic Football is taken in the US, I should point out the selection of Benny Feilhaber to the side has generated more controversy and anger among fans than any pick to any US World Cup squad. People may be over reacting but his selection is being crucified the way Theo Walcott’s was for the England World Cup team. That’s how seriously we are taking it. It’s a pity the Germans even if they don’t care for the tournament don’t respect why those of us on this side of the globe fell so strongly about it. The big loser in all of this will be the Bundesliga long term.

  8. “Werder Bremen has also refused to allow Dusko Tosic of Serbia to join his team and has reportedly confiscated his passport.”

    A club can’t confiscate someone’s passport and it has been reported nowhere.

    Schalke and Bremen are Bundesliga clubs, but so are:
    Hamburg who released Vadis Odjidja-Ofoe and Vincent Kompany.
    Bayern who released Breno and Jose Ernesto Sosa.
    Stuttgart who released Georges Mandjeck.
    Dortmund who released Patrick Njambe.
    Hoffenheim who released Chinedu Obasi.

    And as Dan pointed out, Barca are refusing to let Messi go. And they didn’t want to release Ronaldinho either, when he was still playing for them.

    “Perhaps this helps to explain why the Premier League is head and shoulders above the Bundesliga these days when it comes to international recognition and popularity.”

    Barca has bucket loads of international recognition and popularity.

    I think Bremen and Schalke could have handled the situation much better, e.g. like Hamburg who brokered a compromise with Kompany, who will do all the pre-season training with his club and then travel to Beijing.

    But FIFA needs to take some of the blame as well. There’s a legal framework for World Cups, Euros, Copas and all those Uxx youth tournaments, which clubs must follow. Blatter can say that clubs should or must or whatever, but the fact remains, that FIFA failed to create a similar framework for the Olympics – for whatever reason. And the lack of any clear legally binding rules has caused the current situation in the first place.

  9. The Telegraph reported the passport seizure.

    ” Werder Bremen are refusing to release Serbia’s Dusko Tosic and have reportedly confiscated his passport. Another Serb, Gojko Kacar, of Hertha Berlin, has also had his passport confiscated, while Stefan Babovic, of Nantes, was recalled to the club while driving to the airport to join his compatriots.”

    The Telegraph, July 26th 2008

    Nantes of course is a French club, but why are the English and Italian clubs so much more accommodating across the board than German, French and Spanish clubs?

  10. The Olympics are a huge deal in Latino communities.

    Olympic Soccer and to a lesser extent Basketball seem to be the only things on their mind right now in Miami.

    For me it is still very telling to see the difference in attitudes between European and Latins towards events in world football. The World Cup is the only one with universal appeal. Most Latins could give a damn about the Euros and most European do not even know what Copa America is. The Olympics are seen as an annoyance as the post here mentions by Europeans but a deadly serious competition by Latins and the USA.

    Good post, by the way.

  11. The report about Bremen keeping Tosic’s passport is wrong. Tosic wants to fight for his spot on the team and has decided to stay with Bremen.
    And the blame for all this should be with FIFA because they don’t have clear rules for this event.

  12. A club can’t confiscate someone’s passport. And why didn’t Bremen do the same with Diego then? The Telegraph is the only paper reporting this story and I would give them credit for some bad journalism there.

  13. This is a typical article about what you people call soccer by a dumb yank. You do not even have the dignity to call the sport by its actual name in that country. Nobody in Europe cares about Olympic Football. Nobody. Once the club seasons begin that it all that matters. The US and these Latin countries have made a habit because they are attention starved largely because everything that happens in football now happens in Europe of over emphasizing youth events. The US and Argentina both along with Mexico, Brazil, Chile and everyone else over there whine about releases from clubs for U-17, U-19, U-21, U-23 and all these meaningless youth events.
    It is a complete insult to European Football and the club game that FIFA is mandating players be released for what is essentially an exhibition being played to educate the American public about a sport they do not deserve to play.
    I’ve watched the American domestic league. It is slow as a turtle. The Mexican and Brazilian leagues are even slower. What is played over there isn’t real football. The players from the American hemisphere who can play football come to Europe and they are obligated by contract to play for their clubs.
    Players who want to leave their clubs for a meaningless set of friendlies ought to be suspended. UEFA must step and do battle with FIFA or European interests are going to be over run. Honestly, who does Messi think he is wanting to leave a champions league match for what is a semi professional exhibition played for the benefit of the Americans who do not care for the sport because they are too ignorant to understand it.

  14. Previosuly I said that McBride being on the Olympic team this year “doesn’t reflect very well on him.” Those aren’t the harshest words, so there’s no reason to be so offended.

    My point elaborated: McBride has been in the World Cup squad twice and had been a starter for Fulham for years, maybe he should step aside and allow newcomers some limelight – especially at the Olympics of all events.

    And yes, Euro 2008 is definitely more important than the Olympics. Why would you contest that? Sorry, all.

    Lastly, what’s with the center-justification on this blog?

  15. It has nothing to do with Anti-Americanism……did he not call the BRAZILIAN league slow?

    He’s probably just upset the England team will never ever possess the quality that the Brazilians have.

  16. Karthik, have to agree with you, that Bayern-Bremen game was something else! I too am glad I chose that over the snooze fest that is Liverpool-Chelsea.

  17. Wow, Harold and Bryan SF, join the rest of the world, it’s 2008 not 1953, btw, the Cold War has ended.

    It may sound strange that there is a world outside of football and that even in today’s world people still have pride in their country and want to take part in the world wide games for all nations and sports. Must be some sort of strange American idea to invite the world to join in sport to promote peace and understanding.

  18. The Olympic Football Tournament is the oldest international Football Tournament. It is designated U-23 by FIFA, which makes it the final age-restricted bracket before Senior Level. Winning is prestigious. Just ask Brazil, who have never won it, and who are threatening to fire Dunga if they don’t.

    England, never having participated in it, I’m sure doesn’t really understand it. I’ll give them a pass on that.

    I will be watching as many matches as possible, thanks to MSNBC or whatever network shows the tournament exclusively over here.

    Since SAF doesn’t want to coach the UK team in 2012 in London, I nominate Harry Redknapp.

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