MILAN - Rebellious Serie A players
announced plans to strike during matches on September 25 and 26
because of a contract dispute, throwing Italian football into more
disarray on Friday and spooking other leagues and sports.
The Italian footballers' association has been sabre-rattling
for months after a collective contract between the trade union
and the league guaranteeing players' basic rights expired in the
close-season and talks over a renewal faltered.
"The association, in perfect symphony with the players of
Serie A, has decided not to go on the field for the fifth round
of matches of the Serie A championship on September 25 and 26 in
protest against requests to impose new contractual rules," AC
Milan defender Massimo Oddo told a news conference in the city.
A full programme of Serie A games is planned for that
weekend and if the strike happens it will cause havoc with
broadcasters and the league schedule for the rest of the season.
Italian football has only just recovered from the chaos of a
2006 match-rigging scandal while wholesale changes have been
made at the football federation after the national team were
dumped out of the World Cup in the group stage as holders.
The players' association, which did strike in 1996 over
similar grievances, has threatened to strike again several times
in recent seasons over an array of disputes but it has stepped
back from the brink or come to an agreement with bosses.
This time the weight of ill-feeling over a complex contract
issue has been greater.
"There will definitely be a strike," said union member Oddo,
a 2006 Italy World Cup winner who now rarely plays for Milan.
"The strike is against the lack of a new collective contract
but also the fact we players feel we are treated like objects."
The top flight Serie A, which formed a breakaway division
from the rest of the Italian league at the start of this term
with club bosses vowing to run things their way, had said they
would propose a new collective deal this Monday.
"To call a strike is an extreme choice," league chief
Maurizio Beretta said in a statement having arranged his own
hastily arranged news conference in Rome.
"The idea of arriving at the negotiating table with a loaded
gun is not the best way to forge agreement."
Allied to the absence of a collective agreement, the
players' association has become alarmed by the trend of clubs
trying to force players to move teams in the last year of their
contracts when they are no longer wanted.
Fans and some club presidents have long lamented the vast
amount of money top football players are paid and the fact that if
a footballer wants to move clubs he can invariably force through
a transfer by inferring he will not give his all for his team.
The association has hit back by saying some clubs had wanted
to rip up the last year of a contract of a well-paid player they
no longer wanted and only pay him 50 percent of what he was due.
Professor Tom Cannon of Liverpool University, an expert in
football finance, said other leagues would quiver at the strike
prospect even though the issue is centred on Italy for now.
"Owners are trying to get more control of their own
finances," he told Reuters. "The issues emerging in Italy have
not arisen in England or Spain yet but clearly there are
financial concerns across Europe.
"I still don't think the strike will happen. My expectation
is a deal will be done but it's not impossible."
Serie A matches will be played as normal this weekend.
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