Van Persie and Vermaelen: Arsenal's national duty injury victims
Should the home country pay a player’s treatment bill or some form of compensation when they get injured on national duty? That question has raised a lot of dust in football circles. There are positions on all sides of the argument.
I shall try to present them so the reader may decide on their merits based upon my findings and suggestions. The club versus country tension is real and on-going with no immediate resolution in sight.
The football club’s position
Clubs expend huge sums of money to sign and groom players into stars. Therefore, there is an expectation to protect their investment assets. An injured player is an asset on hold which, given the astronomical wage packages some players command, can be prohibitive to the club.
There is a perception that the national teams just cherry-pick the cream players after the clubs have done the hard work of nurturing such footballers into prominence.
The National team’s position
Representing one’s country is reward enough because players become national ambassadors and heroes as a result.
FIFA, they say, makes it mandatory for clubs to make selected players available. Club funds, more often than not, are bigger than that of the national football association since the clubs have more ways to generate funds.
The player’s position
Sandwiched between the clubs and the national team are the players. They are caught between being heroes or villains whichever way they choose. Choosing to play for their country may lead to a clash with their club managers and a subsequent loss of playing position. Choosing the club over country may lead to an ugly impression of being unpatriotic or selfish. A possible banishment may follow as well.
In other cases, poorly-timed injuries have become the norm as was Arjen Robben’s case following last summer’s World Cup in South Africa.
Jet-lag has been a major challenge as well as the clocking of thousands of air-miles has a negative effect on footballers. Estonia’s Joel Lindpere’s draining experience informed his decision to reject further national team call-ups for the rest of this year.
The performance of players varies over time when measured. In some cases, they are better when playing for their home country and not their club sides, and vice versa.
A role for mediation
Like a ball juggler, the three positions—if left to their own devices—would be difficult to juggle at once. A fine balance must be found between the magnetic pull of representing a national team and club obligations. This requires a great deal of diplomatic negotiations on all sides. It also explains why no significant progress has been made.
Clubs may be more inclined to release players for national assignments when provisions are made for some form of contractual compensation. This would fill in the gap at the club level since they would receive some form of incentive for their sacrifice.
Such payments may come from either the world‘s soccer governing body, FIFA, or from the home country’s football federation. Ideally, the amount paid would help cover for the loss of a player to his club in competitive matches.
Alternatively, an insurance scheme that is funded by the national football authority would be a safe and pragmatic way of shifting the financial responsibility to an insurance carrier. UK Football Association Insurers would pay for Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard's grade two hamstring tear injury while on England duty in the international friendly (2-1) loss to France at Wembley recently.
Meaningless friendly matches would need to be scrapped or curtained. Domestic competitive games would need to be streamlined to allow for key international qualification matches. The local calendar has to be made more flexible and less consuming on the players.
During the World Cup years, continental cup qualification matches should be used as a measure of who qualifies for the global fiesta. This way, needless duplication of matches would be avoided.