Stars in a quandary as clubs get tough over Olympics

Stars in a quandary as clubs get tough over Olympics

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The club versus country debate hots up ahead of next month's summer Games in Beijing.

Some of Europe's top football players are on collision course with their clubs over the right to be able to represent their countries at next month's Olympic Games.

Two of the biggest names in the game - Brazilian Ronaldinho and Argentinian Lionel Messi - have been nominated for their nations' Olympic squads, much to the annoyance of Spanish giants Barcelona.

Ronaldinho had barely been named by Brazil coach Carlos Dunga for the Games when Barca officials objected, even though the 28-year-old has been deemed surplus to requirements at the club.

"Ronaldinho has to report for training next Monday," read a club statement.

"The Olympics do not feature in the FIFA calendar and there are no special rulings on the issue, so the club is not obliged to release its players."

Barcelona's statement made no mention of 21-year-old striker Lionel Messi, who has been included in the squad of defending Olympic champions Argentina.

However, sports director Txiki Begiristain recently told Marca sports daily that Barcelona wanted the maximum number of players available for the Champions League qualifying stage.

"Our objective is to go into the preliminaries with all our players, including Messi," he said.

"We understand the importance of playing the preliminary round. We think that we are right and the player should not be freed by us."

Barcelona, who finished third in La Liga behind champion Real Madrid and Villarreal, are involved in Champions League qualifying matches during the August 7-23 Olympic football tournament.

The Olympic tournament is an under-23 affair but each participating team is allowed to include three over-age players. However, the tournament falls outside of the international calendar and clashes with the start of the league seasons in Europe.

FIFA president Joseph Blatter appealed in February to clubs "to consider a flexible approach" on over-age players.

However, a FIFA statement at the time also acknowledged that the competition was outside the international calendar and "is not specifically mentioned in the release provisions of the FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players."

In Germany, Werder Bremen are resisting Diego's desire to compete at the Games after the 23-year-old midfielder was named in the Brazil squad, while Schalke 04 said they would not release 22-year-old defender Rafinha, also chosen by Dunga.

Both clubs feel there is little FIFA can do if the players, although both considered as under-23, are not released.

"It's clear that if we don't release Diego, we won't face any sanctions," Bremen general manager Klaus Allofs said.

Schalke's new coach Fred Rutten said Rafinha had not approached him about the Games "and that is a good thing."

League and cup winners Bayern Munich had made it clear early on they would not be prepared to release Argentina defender Martin Demichelis or Brazilian defender Lucio. Both had been keen to participate as over-age players, but neither player was nominated.

Bayern manager Uli Hoeness said the club would not stand in the way of an Olympics participation for two other players, 22-year-old Argentinian midfielder Jose Ernesto Sosa and 18-year-old Brazilian defender Breno, who are named in the respective squads.

"The World Cup is there for these players, not the Olympics. The Olympics is for players under 23," Hoeness said.

Others have been persuaded it would be in their best interests not to travel to China. SV Hamburg's Belgium defender Vincent Kompany decided against playing at the Games after talks with Hamburg sports director Dietmar Beiersdorfer.

"We told him it would be better for him if he stays in Hamburg for the entire preparations (for the new season)," he said.

Other clubs facing the loss of players are Real Madrid whose striker Robinho has been chosen by Brazil.

The Olympics is the only significant title five-time world champions Brazil have never won, and Dunga has also selected Manchester United midfielder Anderson, Manchester City's new record signing Jo and Liverpool midfielder Lucas Leiva as he attempts to win a first football gold for the nation.

Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez could also lose midfielder Javier Mascherano, one of three over-age players along with Juan Roman Riquelme of Boca Juniors and Inter Milan defender Nicolas Burdisso in the Argentina squad.

Bayern defender Breno said he could understand the clubs views on releasing players, but pointed out that for South Americans the Olympic tournament is of far greater significance than in Europe.

Bayern team-mate Sosa agreed: "For me the Olympics is very important. As a player you only have one chance in a lifetime to take part.

"Of course, it's not a good thing to miss out on training for the new Bundesliga season but for Argentinians it is incredibly important to play for our country."

(DPA - expatica 2008) 

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