Bayern Munich are depleted by injuries and their bosses blame the Netherlands. Germany’s biggest club says it’s prepared to sue the Dutch football federation over two gimpy stars.
Robben played through pain at this summer's World Cup
Coach Louis van Gaal's Bayern may have got back on the winning track domestically over the weekend, but the mood in Munich is anything but happy. As the German giants prepare for their next Champions League fixture with a makeshift squad dubbed "Louis' remnants," club management is firing verbal salvos at their Dutch neighbors.
Specifically, the bosses in Saebener Street are unhappy about Dutch stars Arjen Robben and Mark van Bommel aggravating injuries while playing for their national side. And they're threatening to take the matter to court, if they don't receive a major cash compensation.
"We want to know by the end of the month whether an agreement is possible," Bayern Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge told a Dutch TV station over the weekend. "If not, it becomes a legal question. And should it come to trial, it will have Bosman-like dimensions."
The 1995 Bosman ruling, which allowed players to become free agents, completely changed the world of football. Rummenigge and others would like to see a similar revolution in the relations between professional clubs and national football associations.
The question is: Are federations such as the Dutch KNVB responsible if players get hurt while on duty for their national sides? And if so, are associations liable to pay damages to those players' employers?
Bayern's bosses want Robben on the pitch earning trophies for them
Arjen Robben, Bayern's stand-out winger, tore a hamstring in a friendly for the Netherlands last summer just before the start of the 2010 World Cup. This sort of injury normally requires weeks to heal, but Robben made a miraculous recovery to play in South Africa - only to turn up re-injured for the start of the Bundesliga season, in which he has yet to compete.
At the time, Bayern's chief physician repeatedly said the medical staff of the KNVB should not have allowed Robben to play.
And tempers flared again last week when holding midfielder Mark van Bommel was sidelined after exacerbating a knee condition while on international duty for the Netherlands.
Bayern are now demanding an undisclosed sum in the millions from the KNVB to compensate for financial damage resulting from the two players' absence.
"In sporting terms we already have been disadvantaged," Rummenigge fumed in a weekend interview with the German news agency DPA. "We have to do without our best player from last season for five months."
Other prominent coaches, including Arsenal's Arsene Wenger, have been peeved at the KNVB in the past, and national federations have doled out nominal compensation fees for injured players in the past.
But it's unlikely that Bayern can force through the sums and the change in operating procedure the club management would like.
Critics say players like van Bommel are themselves to blame
The KNVB, for its part, doesn't seem all that worried about the legal threats from Southern Germany.
"As far as I'm concerned, they should file their suit today instead of tomorrow," Federation Director Bert van Oostveen told a Dutch newspaper last Friday.
Oostveen was speaking just after FIFA, soccer's international governing body, had given the KNVB its Medical Center of Excellence Award. A summit meeting between the KNVB and Bayern has been planned for this week in an attempt to resolve the conflict.
Meanwhile, others have suggested that a player himself should be held accountable and his salary withheld if he willingly risks physical harm.
"If the risk ahead of a game is 50-50 that an injury will be aggravated, I can't allow myself to be played," German football legend turned commentator Guenter Netzer wrote in his regular column for Bild newspaper. "It cannot be that the employer who pays the player is the one to bear the financial brunt of the injury."
Netzer has a point in that the world's top players aspire to and personally profit from playing for the national team, even though it's essentially just a side job. But it would be difficult to draw a legal line between where personal ambition ends and pressure from national associations on players begins. Accountability isn't easy to assign.
That's one of the many issues Bayern Munich will have to ponder as they decide whether to make good on their legal threats. In the meantime, Bayern's bosses will have to hope their stars make speedy recoveries - and that the remnants get the job done against Cluj.
Author: Jefferson Chase
Editor: Nicole Goebel