Saturday, July 26, 2008

Messi Turmoil...

Just as the final decision by the board will be made on whether or not to let Leo Messi join Argentina’s push for another Olympic victory, I thought I would weigh in this complicated business of club vs sorta country.

Let’s start with the overarching themes involved in this discussion:

1. The Olympics are a U-23 competition with 3 age exemptions. That means that you can select a squad of 20 players who are 23 and under and 3 players who are over 23 (or any combination not exceeding the 3 over-23 players).

2. The Olympic competition is not a FIFA-sanctioned tournament and is thus time is not allotted for it under the FIFA calendar. This is, for example, in direct contrast with the World Cup, meaning that World Cup qualifiers force club competitions to stop or deal with the absence of their players during that the days allotted for WCQs.

Those are the essential points involved. Technically, according to FIFA regulations, clubs do not have to release their players to compete in the Olympics, but most do because those players are not vital to their opening few matches, which are generally friendlies due to when the Olympics take place. That this year’s Olympics takes place in August is no different than any other time (except Sydney 2000 which took place starting on Sept 1 due to the location), but the general trend towards pushing the club season further into August has put tremendous pressure on teams who are forced to qualify for various European tournaments. Barcelona is one such club, obviously.Failure to qualify for the Champions League would be regarded as a major blow to the club’s season even before it really started. Thus the ever-increasing importance of young players, who clubs rely on more and more as the years go by, and the ever-increasing attempts by clubs to keep their young players out of non-sanctioned competitions.

The cases of Rafinha and Diego in Germany could very well determine Barcelona’s approach to “el caso Messi”. In those cases, the German Football Association (DFB) sided with the clubs attempting to keep their players, as did UEFA. The Spanish FA has given tacit approval of Barcelona’s attempt to keep Messi out of the Olympics. Sepp Blatter, FIFA president, insists the players must be allowed to leave.

Soccernet quotes him in an article as saying, ‘”The release of players below the age of 23 has always been mandatory for all clubs. The same principle shall apply for Beijing 2008.” The fact that this tournament is not included in the co-ordinated international match calendar “does not mean that there is no release obligation for the relevant clubs,” he added.’

I imagine that lawyers could argue both sides until blue in the face, but the fact remains that it is not part of the match calendar. That’s a big deal and it’s one that Schalke 04 and Werder Bremen are going to argue intensely. The “spirit of the rules” may be invoked by FIFA and they may win in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, but it will, in the end, be a pretty monumental case — at least until FIFA changes the rules and puts the Olympics on the official calendar.*
Then there’s the point of basic human decency on the part of the clubs. Do you let a player go who says he wants to play in the Olympics almost as much as he wants to play in the World Cup? You only get a few years in which to participate (sometimes just one chance, depending on when you become a pro), so shouldn’t clubs, especially rich ones, let players go? It’s good for morale and it might even be good for the development of your team because your second string players will get more serious competition under their belts before the return of the stars. Certainly it’s good to get some more experience for the younger players if they’re not starters (think Royston Drenthe or even ManU’s Anderson), but what of teams that are vying for the aforementioned European spots and will be losing important pieces of their squads to a competition that isn’t even on the FIFA calendar?

You can go either way on this one and I’d like your opinions on the matter, but, first, here’s mine: I do not want Lionel Messi to go to the Olympics. It’s not because I think that the clubs should win out over country, but rather because the season is far too long as it is and “club vs country” loses its sting as an argument when you’ve got 10 competitions to choose from throughout the year. Olympics, Euro2008, Copa America, Confederations Cup, World Cup qualifiers, etc. And that’s just the internationals. Champions League, Copa del Rey, Copa Catalunya, La Liga, to name just the ones Barcelona is involved in (you can add a couple more if you’re an English team). That amounts to too many games over too short a period of time. But if you’re going to have that many club competitions, cut down on the number of internationals. Or vice versa. There’s too much overlap and too much wrangling on everyone’s part to either keep their players or be allowed to play.

I personally don’t care for the Olympics because the whole idea of a unity competition was lost years ago in the Cold War when it became an “I’m better than you at sports, thus my country is better than yours” pissing contest. China has reinvigorated that ethos this year in an attempt to establish itself as a true world superpower, which is just dumb. The Olympics have lost their shine and I, for one, will be watching very little of them, as much as I love a myriad of sports going on at once. Thus, I do not support Lionel Messi leaving his club to compete in a silly tournament for kids. He’s above that in skill, so why bother? A gold medal? Not as cool as a Champions League trophy in my eyes.

But what do you think?
*They may not be able to do so because it’s a U-23 competition, but I’m not sure how that works.

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