A serious injury to Germany's footballer of the year, Arjen Robben, has given new impetus to an old complaint from top soccer sides: when a player gets hurt representing his country, shouldn't his club get compensation?
Arjen Robben's initial injury might have healed by now
Bayern Munich chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge wants the world football federation, FIFA, and its European counterpart, UEFA, to reach into their pockets and provide insurance against injuries sustained by players while representing their countries.
"We are in discussion," Rummenigge said in an interview published in Munich newspapers on Tuesday. "And it would appear that UEFA is showing a readiness to insure all European clubs against such problems. And that's not just during major competitions, but for every international fixture."
Rummenigge and Bayern are trying to safeguard themselves for the future, after their Dutch superstar, Arjen Robben, sustained a serious hamstring injury playing for the Netherlands before the World Cup, and then apparently exacerbated this problem by rushing back on to the pitch to take part in the tournament in South Africa. The reigning Bundesliga "Player of the Year," who has shown a certain susceptibility to injury throughout his career, is unlikely to play any real part in the first half of this year's league campaign.
Rummenigge (r.) paid around 25 million euros to bring Robben to Bayern Munich
Bayern Munich is also seeking direct compensation from the Dutch football federation (KNVB) in "the Arjen Robben case," as it has now been dubbed in the German press.
"Our goal has not changed," Rummenigge said. "It's my opinion that the Dutch should compensate us for [Robben's] wages during the period that he is injured. The facts - the data from the MRI scans - are incontrovertible."
"It's a fact that Arjen Robben is injured," Bayern's coach, Louis van Gaal said in a recent television interview. "It's also a fact that he didn't hurt himself while on holiday."
But at the time, Bayern's Dutch forward was keen to play in the competition even if he wasn't fully fit, quite understandably considering the World Cup's enduring prestige.
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Robben is paid roughly four million euros ($5.1 million) per year for his services, meaning that Bayern would like to send the Dutch soccer authority an invoice for something in the region of 1 million euros, depending on how long the player remains out of action.
The astronomical wage structures of Europe's top clubs has raised questions over the viability of such an insurance policy, especially given the possibility of long-term or even career-ending injuries.
"All these players have very high wages," the editor of German soccer magazine Kicker, Joerg Jakob, told Deutsche Welle. "And if you need to insure someone with high wages in a risky profession, the premiums will be very, very high. I think they will have to cap these insurance fees, because otherwise, even FIFA - which is very rich - would not be able to pay up."
Rummenigge has also suggested that "a certain upper limit" might be imposed on any promise to insure international players.
Europe's top clubs are often loath to release their superstars for international matches, all too aware of the danger that they might return fatigued or injured. With the advent of "super-clubs," like Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Inter Milan or Chelsea, who fill their squads with international stars from around the world, the problem has intensified.
A host of Bayern stars had a hectic World Cup schedule
Some club owners have argued that FIFA or UEFA should pay players' wages when they travel with their national teams. More than a few coaches have announced that key players developed mystery injuries shortly before international fixtures - especially non-competitive friendly matches - only to miraculously recover in time for the next club game.
"This is not just a discussion about money, it's a discussion about power in international football," Kicker's Joerg Jakob said. "For several years, the high-earning Champions League clubs have wanted to have more power and influence on international football. And this is another step in this whole discussion."
Jakob believes that the days of FIFA, UEFA, and international football taking precedence over club-level competition could be over, as the audience, budget and prestige of the modern-day domestic game continues to grow. He points to the revolutionary scheduling of the upcoming round of Euro 2012 qualifying fixtures, which will take place on Friday and Tuesday in a bid to allow players more time for recuperation before the weekend's league matches, as evidence of the shifting sands.
From a purely financial perspective, it's the clubs that pay players and have them under contract, while international teams effectively borrow their services from time to time. But Jakob also cautions that teams like Bayern Munich create problems for themselves by trying to monopolize the international talent on display in the Bundesliga.
"If you want top quality players capable of top class football, obviously you get international footballers who are playing for their national teams. And so long as FIFA says: 'If they are picked, then they have to play,' then this problem will never really be solved."
With over a dozen Bayern players in action during the World Cup this summer, you could argue it's little wonder that one of them picked up a serious injury.
Author: Mark Hallam
Editor: Nancy Isenson