Last month Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribéry announced his retirement from international football, prompting fury from UEFA President Michel Platini.
Platini has threatened to ban Ribéry if he declines any future call-up to the French national team. According to Platini, if Didier Deschamps selects Ribéry then he is obliged to play for the national team. “That’s written in the FIFA statutes. If he doesn’t report for duty, then he would be banned for three matches for Bayern Munich. It is not the player’s decision whether he represents his country, it’s the decision of the coach. Ribéry cannot simply decide for himself whether he wants to play for France or not.”
Ribéry has more recently said that he’s not for turning. He went on to say that he isn’t interested in the politics surrounding his decision.
According to FIFA rules:
Clubs are obliged to release their registered players to the representative teams of the country for which the player is eligible to play on the basis of his nationality if they are called up by the association concerned. Any agreement between a player and a club to the contrary is prohibited.
The rules appear to be silent on what happens if a player makes plain his intention to retire from the national team before the team is even selected.
So why is Platini kicking up such a fuss over what appears to be a routine retirement? And what does Ribéry mean by “the politics surrounding his decision”?
We’re venturing into football hipster conspiracy theory territory here, so bear with us.
Platini is, of course, French and the 2016 Euro Finals are being held in, er, France. A simple conspiracy theory is that Platini is throwing a tantrum so that one of his homeland’s better players will take the field during the 2016 finals tournament. Ribéry will be 33 by the time the next Euro finals roll around. And France has Pogba!
An alternative conspiracy theory is that this is part of a power struggle between the European Club Association and UEFA/FIFA.
The ECA represents 214 clubs at a European level. According to its website, its aim is “to create a new, more democratic governance model that truly reflects the key role of the clubs.” Translation: we’re sick of paying all this money for these pricey players just to see FIFA and UEFA spirit them away for tournaments without so much as a thank-you.
For example, at the 2014 World Cup, about three-quarters of all players came from European clubs.
In March 2012, after lengthy negotiations, the ECA and UEFA signed a memorandum of understanding. From the ECA website:
This new agreement paves the way for a fruitful relationship between European clubs and Europe’s football governing body, reflecting an improved balance between national team and club football. The new MoU underlines that UEFA clearly recognises the importance of clubs and the significant contribution they make to the success of national team football.
“Improved balance” in this case means caps on the number of international matches any player can take part in during an approved international break, insurance for players’ salaries while on national team duty and distribution of UEFA Euro tournament revenues. The ECA also gets a say in UEFA’s decision-making process.
The ECA had a similar MoU with FIFA. And a nice little earner it was too. Under the terms of the MoU, the ECA agreed to take US$70 million to permit their players to go to the finals in Brazil.
The MoU expired at the end of July and has yet to be renewed or replaced. There were suggestions that ECA member clubs would boycott the matches played outside Europe during the recent international break.
In July FIFA’s Jerome Valcke said, “We have agreed that we will sit down in September, October, November [with the ECA] to discuss the next international calendar and we will also discuss an extension to the current agreement over insurance. It’s just a matter of discussing the terms. I’m sure we will finalise an agreement.”
The Chairman of the ECA is Karl-Heinz Rummenigge who represents…Bayern Munich, Ribéry’s club.
It was all smiles at the ECA General Assembly held in Geneva earlier this week as Platini addressed ECA members at the Président Wilson Hotel. The ECA website reports that Platini’s speech centred on his intention to seek a third term as UEFA President and that Platini “hailed the great relationship between UEFA and ECA”.
What does this have to do with Ribéry? Probably nothing. It’ll all get sorted out. It always does. We shouldn’t worry.
POSTSCRIPT: Michel Platini announced his retirement from playing football at the end of the 1986/87 season. He was just shy of his 32nd birthday when he played his last game for Juventus. The previous summer he had played at the World Cup Finals in Mexico. At the time of his retirement, France was in the midst of a Euro qualifying campaign.
Photos via Wikimedia Commons and the ECA website.