Club v Country

Football is a central phenomenon in society, with a growing importance as the most popular sport in the world, with about 270 million people participating in its various competitions. Football is the king of sport and has reached a level of unparalleled popularity. Although a sport, we need to recognise we are dealing with an ultra-lucrative business with a tangible influence on fans and society in general. It has undergone a long process of social but now the major competitions are media spectacles on a world stage.  The call up to represent a national team is theoretically a privilege and for many it may even be the realisation of a dream. It is considered the pinnacle of some athlete’s careers and to represent an entire country is and always will be a huge responsibility.

Eligibility

The conditions for national team selection and its regulation is covered by Annex 3 of the FIFA Statutes, Eligibility to play for representative teams.

Article 6 covers the rules on nationality entitling players to represent more than one association. It sets out that players are “eligible to represent more than one Federation because of his/her nationality, may participate in an international match by one of these Federations if, in addition to have at least one of the following conditions:

  • He was born on the territory of the relevant association;
  • His biological mother or biological father was born in the territory of the Federation concerned;
  • His grandmother or grandfather was born on the territory of the relevant association;
  • He has lived continuously on the territory of the relevant association for at least two years.”

Article 7 dictates how players can acquire a new nationality. They require that a player has not already played competitive international football for another nation and is eligible to play for the new nation pursuant to the eligibility rules. A recent example of a player using these rules was Diego Costa who played for Brazil in two friendlies in 2013 before controversially switching to play for Spain. This rule has also allowed brothers to play for different national teams such as Jerome and Kevin-Prince (Germany/Ghana) Boataeng or Paul and Mathias/Florentin Pogba (France/Guinea).

pogba

An even more controversial example of changing nationalities occurred when Kosovo declared its independence in 2008. Several players who had already played for Norway and Albania wanted to play for Kosovo and were only granted permission in the hours leading up to the kick off!

National Team Conscription?

Most players called up to represent a national team will be under a contract of employment with a club implying certain duties and obligations. Under Article 1, Annex 1 of the Regulation on the Status and Transfers of Players, “Clubs are obliged to release their registered players to the representative teams of the country for which the player is eligible to play on the basis of his nationality if they are called up by the association concerned. Any agreement between a player and a club to the contrary is prohibited.”

This seems like a system of conscription and this does not exist in other business sectors. If we compare players to objects of value, then would the law ever force someone to give up their car for a local drag race where it might break and lose value? It’s understandable that clubs are unwilling to give up their players to national teams because they can get injured. An example of this occurred when Arjen Robben got injured in the 2010 World Cup and missed two months of the next domestic season for Bayern Munich.

Bayern’s chief executive at the time was quoted saying, “When you hire a car, you have to bring it back in a decent state. Robben was taken from us, then put back in the garage as a wreck. Once again we must pay the bill as a club after a player is seriously injured playing for a national team.”

FIFA recognised that clubs were making sacrifices for the good of the game and decided to compensate clubs £3,000 per national player per day during the Euros 2008. In the Euros in 2012 a total of €100m was shared between 575 clubs.

Platini “Clubs who provide UEFA and FIFA with certain amounts of money through these layers should get some compensation and share in these profits.”

Fortunately for clubs, they only have to release players for international windows, (which will be explained later) and must be given 15 days of notice in writing. Under Article 8 “clubs and associations concerned may agree a longer period of release” but this is up to their discretion and under Article 9 players must “resume duty with their clubs no later than 24 hours (48h if playing on a different continent) after the end of the period for which they had to be released.” If the player does not get back in time, then the FIFA Players’ Status Committee can sanction the player under the Disciplinary Code by shortening their next international break by two days or by five days at the finals of an international tournament under Article 10. These provisions all intend to protect the clubs and the sanctions should deter players from taking liberties.

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International Match Calendar

The Official International Match Calendar was created in 2002 with the aim of ensuring clubs know when they have to release their players and can plan ahead. Before 2002 many European clubs who supposedly play some of the “best football in the world”, did not want to release their players to national teams, especially for friendly matches for fear of injury. The competitions that are currently scheduled in the International Match Calendar are:

  • Football World Cup
  • European Football Championship
  • Copa América de Futebol
  • Asian Football Cup
  • Football Confederations Cup
  • CONCACAF Gold Cup of Soccer

Competitions such as the Olympic Games and OFC Nations Cup (Oceania) are not included in the calendar and so clubs are not obliged to release their players to participate, which creates tension between athletes, clubs and national federations.

Ultimately, clubs are obliged to release their players to certain competitions but there are several limitations and safeguards in place to protect the clubs’ interests. It seems that in the battle between clubs and countries, both have significant protections in place. I would call it an honourable draw, 1-1.

Frederico Bensimon

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