Straight from the dark heart of Italy
"Right lads, down tools we are all out."
You know the world has gone crazy when footballers are threatening strike action.
September 25th and 26th have been earmarked as the dates when Italian football comes to a standstill as the country’s players take to the picket-lines to protest at the ìslave-likeî conditions they are forced to work under.
Of course, not all players earn multi-million Euro contracts such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic who will have to forgo his €320,000-odd weekly wage packet if the union make good on a walk out.
However, the average salary is still around €23,000 a month in the top flight so on the surface there seems little to protest about – unlike the average office worker who has to make do with less than a €1000 a month.
The current agreement between the footballers’ association and the clubs has expired and now the players are filled with revolutionary zeal, just when they may to toe the line for once.
How many times has a player basically broken his contract to ensure a move to another club or sat around earning vast sums of money for doing nothing because he refuses to accept a transfer?
Both parties are to blame for the situation we find ourselves in now – the clubs have been handing out massive contracts over four years to players in their late 20s and expecting them to be at the peak of their powers in their early or some cases mid-30s.
AC Milan are prime example, having awarded the players who "revenged" the 2005 Champions League defeat to Liverpool two years later with four-year deals which meant that the whole squad was set up for life at the pinnacle of their careers.
There was only one direction they were heading after that and Milan were saddled with the likes of Marek Jankulovski, Nelson Dida, Massimo Oddo and Kakha Kaladze who you could never say deserved the star status bestowed on them.
Milan attempted to get some value out of having Oddo hanging around by extending the full-back’s contract for another season but spreading the final payment over 24 months.
However, Jankulovski refused to budge and will no doubt literally sit-out his final season before becoming a wealthy free agent at 33.
With this in mind what concerns the players’ union is the proposal that will give an employer the right to terminate the final year of a contract and pay the player 50 per cent of what he was due if he refuses accept a move to another club of equal standing.
Tellingly, the shop-steward at the press conference to warn the country that their national sport was heading the way of the public transport system - brought to a standstill on a regular basis by industrial action - was Oddo.
Massimo money mo' problems...or something
'We are not objects,' he bleated as he sat there in his designer shirt; sporting perfectly manicured sideburns and looking all for the world like the perfect object of footballing desire.
Clarence Seedorf, Rino Gattuso and Javier Zanetti nodded gravely in agreement while the rest of the non-football playing work shook its head in disbelief.
Let’s face it, any current player who has been in the top flight for the last four or five years should be able to survive until the end of the century on their earnings, investments, luxury villas, cars and other trappings of material wealth.
Even those players who do not warrant star billing have little to complain about: earning a very good living from playing football – and isn’t football all about results and success so if you are good enough you will generally reap the rewards from the game.
There are a number of other issues on the table, so to speak: clubs want to decide where a player has treatment for an injury and not the player. So now we know why Alessandro Nesta spent 18 months in Miami receiving treatment on a back injury.
There is another good one: the union has demanded that coaches must work with one group of players in training thus ensuring that those no longer in their plans or in dispute with the club cannot be exiled to train with the youth team - or all alone.
There is no doubt now that the party is over but these issues can no doubt be solved through dialogue rather than threats of bringing the national game to a halt.
Silvio Berlusconi would not have been taken too kindly with the stance taken by his Milan militants especially in the light of the team’s defeat to the proletariat: newly-promoted Cesena whose annual wage bill is less than Ibra’s basic annual pay.
However, only the under-fire prime minister could still profess solidarity for his hard-put-upon stars in the most political manner by claiming that the match referee’s political leanings were to the left.
Maybe he should have been questioning his own team work ethic and apart from Inter, it was not a profit-making weekend for the top flight’s fat cats: Milan humbled by Cesena; AS Roma thrashed at Cagliari and Juventus held by Sampdoria.
On top of that, Palermo lost at Brescia while Fiorentina went down to Lecce and Napoli drew at home to Bari.
Chievo won at Genoa to leave the Flying Donkeys as the only team on maximum points and top of the table – power then to footballer’s true workers and long may it continue.
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