Fifa risks war with Europe's clubs
Fifa faces fresh conflict with Europe's leading clubs over plans to introduce five more international friendly dates into the already crowded football calendar.
The world governing body is understood to have held internal discussions on the insertion of five extra friendly matches into seasons when World Cups and European Championships do not take place. It would raise the total number of international dates from 12 to 17.
Without counting potential cup replays, that would mean a player in England who was ever-present for club and country while reaching domestic and Champions League finals could be required to play 86 times in a single season.
Fifa's discussions have not included the clubs whose fixture lists will be affected by the changes and who are preparing to push back against what they consider to be a Fifa land-grab. The European Professional Football Leagues association, which groups together 30 leagues across Europe, has made Fifa's incipient plans a top agenda item for its general assembly on 8 July. The EPFL chairman is the Premier League's Sir Dave Richards.
"Fifa has been quite busy with its own internal issues, with the presidential elections," said the EPFL chief executive, Emanuel Macedo de Medeiros. "Now these have taken place we believe it is time for Fifa to move forward in discussions with the leagues. The leagues and clubs face the consequences of the decisions made at Fifa level. The national leagues are the bread and butter of football and our members represent 1,000 clubs."
The elite clubs that make up the European Clubs Association, which was born upon the disbanding of the G-14 pressure group, believe there are already too many international breaks in the fixture list. The ECA will also fight the proposals.
"It is so stupid," said a senior ECA figure from a European Cup-winning club. "Ridiculous. Does a national team need more than 12 matches a year? They want 17 matches now, with friendlies in single days. [The Uefa president] Michel Platini is going to control the media rights centrally, to the detriment of domestic clubs and leagues."
There is an assumption that the greatest net beneficiaries will be the federations of smaller European nations. They are expected to draw more income from the centralised broadcast- and sponsorship-rights deal struck last year. The ECA source also complained that this was driven through Uefa's political structures without consultation with the clubs.
Fifa denied there were firm plans to pursue a 40% increase in the amount of international football played. However, it did confirm that talks have taken place.
"The general secretaries of the six confederations sit down with Fifa's secretary general first to discuss this issue, and it is likely that a meeting will take place this coming autumn to first discuss the international match calendar beyond 2014," said a Fifa spokesman. "Any consensus that they then reach is taken forward to the executive committee for further discussion and ultimate ratification."
Neither the proposing nor the ratifying body involves any representation from the clubs or leagues. However, the spokesman added: "The views of clubs will be considered in the decision-making process, [as will the] different domestic and confederation club calendars in different parts of the world."
Fifa has often been accused of giving scant regard to clubs who employ international players. At the Fifa congress in Zurich on 1 June the deputy general secretary, Markus Kattner, gave a presentation explainingthat the World Cup generated $3.7bn for Fifa. Of this, $40m was carved out for clubs as compensation for the use of their players during the month-long tournament. It worked out as an average of $100,000 per club.
Clubs and leagues will now confront Sepp Blatter's organisation to seek a meaningful and influential place within its governance structures. "We want to be engaged in discussion in a constructive and inclusive manner," said the EPFL source.
The ECA insider summed up the mood among clubs. "We at the ECA are really fed up," he said.