It's FIFA week! Clubs press pause on their own activities as their best players head off to join their respective national teams. It wasn't always like this, though. Few seem to remember but there was a time when players who left their country of birth to play elsewhere were seen as almost irrelevant for their national sides. The clubs that owned the players then did not have to release them. Sweden, as an example, needed the permission of the Italian Federation to get their best players freed up, those that had been ‘exported’ to the Calcio, for the 1958 World Cup… that they were hosting. And although the permission came, it was conditioned with the fact that if Sweden faced Italy in the tournament, those stars could not feature. Fortunately it didn't happen, because the Azzurri didn't even qualify.
Club vs country
But this has not been the case for a long time. FIFA now stipulates that players must be ‘loaned out’ and clubs have no say in the matter, even in case of injury. Argentina have now called up Messi, who has a muscle injury, and PSG’s Leonardo has complained because it does not seem fair and, indeed, it is not. Just as it is not fair that Bale is a dead weight in Madrid's squad and plays from time to time with Wales. Or that the Spanish Federation squeezed every last breath from Pedri at the Olympic Games in Tokyo, which followed the European Championships, and gave us the consequences that we see today. And they kept Ceballos there just in case he could play in the semi-final or final, a player that has still not fully recovered.
The risk to FIFA behaviour
These are just a few examples that illustrate the growing discomfort of clubs, despite them growing less fearful of FIFA’s power. In the September international break the Premier League did not let their Brazilians go because of quarantine rules that would have applied on their return to England. FIFA threatened them with sanctions if they played the subsequent league match, a threat that was not then carried out. With so many cases of corruption, the absurd tinkering with the game’s regulations, their extravagant proposal of the biennial World Cup... These kinds of things have been stripping the governing body of its auctoritas on which everything has hinged. One day the clubs will likely get fed up and we will all lose, although we will have to understand.