The reputation of Italian football has taken a battering in recent years. First it was the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal in 2006 that rocked the credibility of the Italian game and now a new saga has threatened the immediate future of Italian football.
A collective contract which guaranteed player’s rights expired in the summer and negotiations over a new deal between the AIC (Italian Players’ Association) and Serie A have reached an impasse. As a result, the players have decided to take decisive action by engineering a potential strike for the weekend of 25-26th September; a weekend which includes a high-profile clash between Inter Milan and Roma which looks certain to be abandoned if there is no resolution before next weekend.
The disagreement between the two parties has reportedly been centred on a proposal put forward by club owners limiting the opportunities for players to refuse transfers. The proposal would forbid a player in the final year of his contract from refusing a transfer to another “equally competitive” club that offers the same salary. The move comes in an attempt to curb the trend of players who leave their clubs on a free transfer at the end of their contracts, leaving the clubs out of pocket on any potential transfer fee that the player could have commanded.
Much has been made about the prevalence of player power in the modern game but in this case, the players have every right to challenge the authority of the clubs. This new proposal is a desperate attempt by the league to redress the balance of player power that has gotten increasingly out of control but the clubs have definitely gone a step too far.
Firstly, the definition of an “equally competitive club” is ambiguous and subjective and will no doubt prove difficult to define. An “equally competitive club” fails to convey the subtleties such as the history, tradition, profitability and fan-base of any particular club and can never be uniform as each player will have a different opinion of what competitive actually is.
Secondly, making players in the final year of their contract accept a transfer to another equally competitive club for the same amount of money is totally unfair. Should a player not wish to move away, he should be allowed to see out his contract with the club without the threat of being forced out against his will.
This is exactly what happened to Juventus full-back Fabio Grosso. Grosso was entering the final year of his contract with The Old Lady and Juventus were keen to offload him. They urged the defender to accept a transfer to Milan but Grosso declined to be strong-armed and has remained with the Turin club for the time being.
The proposed legislation would leave players such as Grosso who are willing to stay at their current clubs with little or no chance at securing an improved contract. Instead, they would most probably have to take a pay-cut as a reward for their empty loyalty. If these rulings were to come into play, they would certainly harm the probability of Serie A both attracting and holding onto the top players currently playing in the league.
History has shown us that there is usually a peaceful resolution to the threat of strike action by Italian players. However, Serie A needs to act fast to find a solution to their prohibitive proposal or players striking could be the least of their problems.
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