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Managers, Don't Let Your Players Go Out To Be Injured On International Duty

Monday 27th March 2017
Imagine there's no countries--It isn't hard to do--No crocked players to cry for--No seasons down the loo. John Lennon never actually wrote that lyric. Yet, had he been more into football, he might have. Inevitably players come back from international duty injured with clubs having little recourse to address their loss.
International football is the neighbor who, with little more than a shrugged apology, always returns your loaned-out tools broken. It's the tourist who dents the fender on their luxury car rental upgrade but could care less as they don't own the vehicle. Club supporters and managers have railed against national teams who send back players no longer in operable condition since FIFA installed the system whereby countries have an undeniable right to players whose salaries are paid by clubs.

Managers are especially combustible when injuries occur during otherwise meaningless friendlies. In 2009, Arsène Wenger went to war with the KNVB (Dutch FA) over Robin van Persie's potentially season-ending injury. The striker suffered ankle ligament damage in a friendly between the Netherlands and Italy. Initially, l'Oranje doctors claimed Van Persie had a single torn ligament and would only miss six weeks' action. When he returned to London, however, Arsenal's medical team found three of four ligaments were ruptured, he would require surgery, sidelining him for as much as four months. Wenger is famous for falling into a snit at the slightest provocation. Losing his star striker while on international duty caused him to go nuclear.

I think the Dutch FA [intentionally] minimised the injury. Countries just take your player away for a friendly and then give him back [damaged] and say: 'There you go.' It doesn't happen in any other sport. It's a joke and is so disrespectful.

Yes, that's nuclear for the Frenchman. It may be courteous language but, believe me, his nose hairs were quivering. Wenger is correct, though. A mandatory loan system doesn't exist in other sports.
The NHL is, (as it always does) dragging its heels over whether to allow players to compete in the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea. To be fair, in this instance its reluctance is down to the International Olympic Committee's greed. The IOC has refused to continue covering professionals' expenses despite profiting far more from their participation. The NHL see no reason to halt its season for two weeks, losing valuable revenue from both attendance and broadcasting, while its players travel halfway around the world to play games on the owners' dime for someone else in the dead of night.

The NBA leaves the decision to individual players, who often turn down the opportunity, citing fatigue after a long, grueling eighty-two game season and playoffs. With baseball set to return to the Olympics in 2020, Major Leaguers are reluctant to go. They, too, worry over how international duty could negatively affect their earning potential and be a physical drain on their bodies.

Football clubs have no choice but to accept such risks. Worse, compensation for lost players is minimal.

In 2009, the KNVB did not carry insurance to compensate clubs for injuries. Nor was it obligated to do so. The next year it was Bayern Munich's turn to be outraged with the Dutch federation when Arjen Robben suffered a severe injury. As clubs made more noise over injuries suffered on international duty, the ECA negotiated with FIFA and UEFA until the FIFA Club Protection Programme was introduced in 2012.

The CPP is extremely limited, however. It addresses only lost wage and medical expenses. Transfer values are not included. Timing is also an issue. The fund is finite, therefore first come, first serve. If your player is injured early in a fiscal year, they will be covered. They may not be later if there have been sufficient injuries to deplete the annual allocation. Compensation is further limited to one year's wages. If Cristiano Ronaldo's career had been ended at Euro '16, it would have been tough luck for Real Madrid.
Clubs can purchase their own insurance, of course. That, too, has limited benefits. A club might be able to negotiate compensation for lost transfer value but how can Barcelona convince an adjuster they undoubtedly would have won the Champions League had Lionel Messi not (hypothetically) gone down, costing them tens of millions in prize money? How can Man United quantify how many bums Zlatan Ibrahimović puts in Old Trafford seats? Should a role player be lost, such as N'Golo Kante, it would be even more difficult for Roman Abramovich to plead his case than had top star Eden Hazard been the victim, even though the former Leicester City man may be more integral to the Blues winning the Premier League. Opportunity costs can be lost but will never be compensated. Their certainty, had a key player not been injured, is impossible to prove.

In this international week, it's Manchester United raging against the international machine. Phil Jones was sent home with a broken foot suffered in training before the friendly in Germany. Then Chris Smalling was injured before the qualifier against Lithuania, which England still won 2-0. Unfortunately, United had its legs cut out from underneath with regards to any complaint over Jones. It was club teammate Smalling's tackle that did the damage. The incident could have occurred at the club's AON Training Complex as easily as it had at St Georges. All clubs can do when international week rolls around is close their eyes and roll the dice.
Martin Palazzotto

The former editor of World Football Columns, Martin contributes frequently to Stretty News and is the author of the short story collection strange bOUnce. He has appeared in several other blogs which, sadly, have ceased to exist. He is old and likes to bring out defunct. Although football is his primary passion, the geezer enjoys many sports and pop culture forms. Expect them to intrude upon his meanderings for It's Round and It's White.

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