"I think in football there is too much modern slavery, transferring players or buying players here and there, and putting them somewhere. And we are trying now to intervene in such cases"
"I am always in favour of protecting the player. If the player wants to leave, let him leave,"
Unless you have been living under a rock, or in North America, you will be aware that the above comments were uttered by Sepp Blatter, president of FIFA.
Now, I know what you are thinking. The man is a walking sound-bite and his words are not meant to be taken seriously. He is merely there for the amusement of football fans the world over. Rather like a Swiss Jimmy Hill. Of course, you may be quite accurate in your assessment of the value of his opinions in the world of football. This, in itself is quite remarkable given his lofty position as overseer of the world’s favourite game.
However, on this occasion, such a view could be wrong. His latest verbal outpouring could have dramatic repercussions on football in Europe and beyond. You may think I am tending to hyperbole here but consider the following scenario.
Blatter, under the auspices of FIFA, directly intervenes in the Cristiano Ronaldo saga and attempts to force Manchester United to sell for some arbitrary sum. This is not such a leap of imagination when set against Blatter’s direct remark that “we (meaning FIFA, if one assumes a split personality disorder is not at work here) are trying now to intervene in such cases”. This can surely only be interpreted as a threat to flex FIFA’s muscles in a contract dispute between Manchester United and Cristiano Ronaldo, where a multi-year binding contract applies.
In this scenario, if you will permit me to stretch your imagination a little further, Alex Ferguson and Manchester United refuses FIFA’s intervention and challenges the world governing body in a court of law. Considering Manchester United has this highly valued commodity inked to a binding agreement, it is entirely possible that it would be willing to stand its ground on this one. What could the outcome of such a legal battle be?
Ask the majority of Employment Law Specialists and they will tell you that it is entirely plausible that a court of law would release Ronaldo from his commitment to Manchester United and declare such a restriction of a player’s freedom to be unlawful. After all, how many occupations exist which permit such long term prohibition to plying one’s trade elsewhere?
Surely then, Cristiano Ronaldo and Sepp Blatter would be declared winners and ride happily into the sunset? Not really. Cristiano, certainly. He would have the sun on his back and his choice of senoritas in no time. As for Blatter and everybody else involved in football, things may be a little bleaker.
Taken to its logical conclusion, players without contracts could roam anywhere they choose at the whim of an avaricious agent. Teams could parade 100 different players in a season as footballers swan in for a guest appearance between spells in Serie A or La Liga. Alright, I may be being slightly facetious here, but Sepp started it.
My point remains that the inevitable conclusion would be wholesale changes on a season by season basis as players move around the football world. Think of Manchester City last year when die-hard fans couldn't name half of their squad on opening day. How could the supporters of a football club maintain the same degree of loyalty when there is a 90% turnover of player personnel on a yearly basis? The answer is that they wouldn’t and football would suffer immeasurably.
Still, there would be a few less £120,000 a week slaves on our collective conscience so maybe old Sepp was right all along.