The tug-and-pull situation the world’s top soccer players find themselves in is an enviable one for 99% of the sport’s players. These players have to balance between playing for their employer club and representing their country at the international level and, depending on the nation’s success, the competition for both can be equally as fierce. Unfortunately, that battle to balance the two has become unbearable with the advent of overly aggressive clubs, and for the players’ sake something needs to be done.
Club teams have always hated international breaks for a simple reason – coaches they didn’t hire are responsible for the health and development of the players they are paying the salary of. Normally this conflict comes out when an injured player or injury-prone player is called up by the national team for a meaningless friendly and they pick up a knock. While there is a pride element to having your players play internationally, clubs resent it when their players miss time due to work outside of their structure.
This conflict, however, has risen to a new level with the revelation this weekend that Real Madrid issued a letter to the Argentina FA forbidding Angel di Maria from playing in the World Cup final. As a reminder, the midfielder had been a critical spark for a team struggling to play up to expectations. When he was injured in the quarter-final against Belgium, flamboyant Madrid president Florentino Perez sent a letter to the FA president forbidding their players from playing in the World Cup final. Not requesting, forbidding. To their credit, the FA and di Maria tore up the letter but a club forbidding its player from featuring in maybe the most important match in their career is unprecedented, to my knowledge. Also, maybe not coincidentally, di Maria left Madrid this transfer window for Manchester United.
While Real Madrid is not just any club – and Perez is not just any president – a club forbidding an FA from playing an injured player raises the stakes in this debate. Undoubtedly many clubs would like to protect their investments in players by telling countries not to play their players, but is this a good idea? While clubs are paying players and helping them earn a livelihood, nationalistic pride has been recognized as a top virtue in players. It is encouraged that they play internationally, especially for nations where World Cup qualifying is tougher than league play. Conversely, top players are expensive and clubs owe it to their fans to run out the best team possible and do everything in their control to do so.
It’s vital that clear rules about the relationship between clubs and FAs regarding players and keeping them healthy is introduced as soon as possible. No longer are informal calls and media pressure enough – there need to be stronger guidelines to define where the responsibilities for players’ health fall during international breaks and tournaments. That would present the stupidity we saw from Perez from happening.
What rule would you write to define who is responsible for international players’ health?
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