Bid to calm club v country dispute

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Top world football power brokers have begun secret meetings aimed at taking the sting out of the sport’s perennial club versus country dispute.

If successful, the initiative could lead to less rancorous relations between the rich Europe-based clubs and national associations.

The price of greater harmony, however, would be increased influence for the clubs over the way in which the world’s biggest sport is run.

This could lead, in turn, to the implementation of a system for compensating clubs when players - their most valued employees - are away representing their countries in international tournaments, such as next year’s World Cup in Germany.

This has been a frequent source of tension between clubs and national associations over the years. Clubs fear in particular that a proportion of their players will return home tired or injured, impairing their prospects in the leading domestic and European competitions and hence potentially reducing revenues.

One player in the English Premiership recently even suffered a bout of malaria, thought to have been contracted while on international duty in Africa.

The first meeting is understood to have taken place in Zurich in late October and another planned this month.

Those present at the initial encounter - which passed off amicably - are understood to have included Roberto Bettega, vice president of Juventus, the leading Italian club, and president of the G-14 grouping of top European clubs; John Jaakke, chairman of Ajax of the Netherlands; David Dein, vice chairman of London-based Arsenal; Joseph Blatter, president of Fifa, world football’s governing body; and Mathieu Sprengers, an executive committee member of Uefa, European football’s governing body, representing Lennart Johansson, the Uefa president.

Mr Blatter is understood to have accepted that the clubs’ call for a say in all decisions in world football pertaining to clubs and players is, in essence, reasonable. Attention is now expected to turn in future meetings to the formulation of practical plans for achieving this. It is thought that the mechanism for compensating clubs whose players are representing their countries may be some form of insurance scheme.

News of the initiative comes ahead of an important weekend of international football, with countries from Norway to Trinidad and Tobago fighting for places at the 2006 World Cup and Sven-Goran Eriksson’s England due to take on Argentina in Geneva. Both England and Argentina, who have clashed in each of the last two World Cups, securing one victory apiece, have already qualified for next year’s big event and will be among the favourites to win the competition.

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