Sunday, June 17, 2007


La Liga Longa

Following hard on the heels of their altitude edict, the motives for which are highly questionable, FIFA has shot itself in the foot again, this time with a rare decision favouring a big club over a small nation.

The unlucky country is the landlocked Francophone African state, Mali.

Like their African counterparts, Mali are currently engaged in African Nations’ Cup qualifiers. On FIFA’s calendar, this weekend has been set aside specifically for these matches, and one would think that the likes of Mali are perfectly within their rights to demand the attendance of their top players. Two such players are Mahamadou Diarra of Real Madrid, and the prolific striker Fredi Kanouté, of Sevilla.

Yet, bizarrely, FIFA have backed their Spanish clubs’ demands that the players be available for the final round of matches in La Liga this weekend.

All sorts of explanations could be offered for FIFA’s rare championing of the cause of club football over the international variant – including the fact that the Brazilian striker Robinho, in a similar situation, had already been given leave to play for Real Madrid rather than join Brazil’s preparations for the Copa America. Frankly, though, it is hard not to suspect that FIFA’s decision over the two Malians constitutes some sort of sop to the G14 group of clubs, to which FIFA is, in general, bitterly opposed.

D-Day is not far off in the explosive Oulmers case, and if the judgement in that particular matter goes against FIFA, the financial consequences could be ruinous for the world governing body. There may be some compromise settlement being worked out behind the scenes, but the G14 would appear to hold the upper hand (their arguments, it must be said, appear far more valid in legal terms).

The fact that two Algerian clubs also have Malian internationals on their books, but have been unable to secure their services for matches this weekend due to their international commitments, suggests very strongly that FIFA’s position is inconsistent at best.

But enough on FIFA for the moment. In all this, there’s an elephant in the room.

Namely, the stupidity of the RFEF – the Spanish FA – in making their league season extend so ridiculously far into the European summer.

There were already problems with their elongated championship last season, when they needed special dispensation from FIFA to play a postponed match in late May. La Liga functioned perfectly well when it was limited to eighteen teams (as all European leagues should be, incidentally), but a 20-team league, combined with a winter break, a prolix cup competition and a lack of midweek fixtures, means that the players must soldier on into June.

Whatever one makes of FIFA’s motives, the real villain here is emphatically the RFEF.

I would blame FIFA in this instance because they approved the dates knowing that the Spanish league would still be going on. They could have asked CAF to delay the matches by two weeks for example but they didn't or they could have asked CAF to look for another suitable date.

But looking at the situation again, may Mali didn't need the two players in this instance as they went on to win 6-0.
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