Straight from the dark heart of Italy
“Right lads – down tools, we're all out.”
You know the world has gone crazy when footballers are threatening strike action. This Saturday and Sunday, full-backs will join fantasistas around the flaming oil drums on the picket-lines to protest at the “slave-like” conditions they're forced to work under.
Of course, not all players earn multi-million-Euro contracts like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who will have to forgo his €320,000-odd weekly wage packet if the union make good on a walk-out. The average top-flight weekly salary might be "only" €5,300 but the average office worker has to make do with less than €250 a week.
However, 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 need 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 and lengthy contracts to players in their late twenties and expecting them to be at the peak of their powers in their early thirties or even later.
AC Milan are prime example. The players who avenged the 2005 Champions League final defeat by beating Liverpool two years later were rewarded with four-year deals – meaning that at the pinnacle of their careers, the whole squad was set up for life.
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 simply didn't deserve 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 allow clubs to terminate the final year of a contract and pay the player 50 percent of what he was due if he refuses accept a move to another club of equal standing.
Tellingly, Oddo was 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.
“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, Javier Zanetti and Rino Gattuso nodded gravely in agreement while the rest of the working world 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 not given star billing can have few gripes about earning a very good living from playing football. Considering football is all about results and success, if you are good enough you will generally reap the rewards from the game.
There are a number of other issues. Clubs want to decide where a player has treatment for an injury and not the player. Under that arrangement it would be difficult to imagine Alessandro Nesta spending 18 months in Miami receiving treatment on a back injury. And the union has demanded that coaches must work with one group of players in training – 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.
FEATURE, 9 Sep 2010: Milan lead the way as wage bills revealed
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's work ethic. But then, Inter aside, it wasn't a profit-making weekend for the top flight’s fat cats: Milan were 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 table-topping Flying Donkeys as the only team on maximum points. Power to footballer’s true workers, and long may it continue.
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