Giant on the move
Why Barcelona should let Messi stay in China
Spanish clubs are often cast as villains in South America. One minute they are refusing to release players to play for their respective national teams, the next they are accused of exploiting loopholes in transfer regulations to poach young talent without paying a penny.
Earlier this year, Vasco da Gama angrily accused Real Madrid of trying to make an offer to 15-year-old Philippe Coutinho behind their back. The club said that Real had offered a job to the player’s father and the chance to live abroad.
“They try to get around the law by taking those responsible for the player to live and work abroad,” said Eurico Miranda, club president at the time. “They offer a job to the father and take the player. But they’re not doing that here at Vasco.”
Last year, River Plate president Jose Maria Aguilar said FIFA’s rule that players could not be transferred internationally until they reached the age of 18 was routinely being broken.
“The way it happens is a club from a Spanish city contracts a woman to cook and by coincidence she has a 14-year-old football genius son,” he told Reuters in an interview. “They are stealing our players.”
Real Madrid also upset the Brazilian national team by refusing to release Robinho for Brazil’s pre-Copa America training camp last year even though FIFA’s international calendar was on the side of the South Americans.
The latest rift has involved Barcelona and Argentina striker Lionel Messi. Argentina picked Messi for their Olympic team, believing they were supported by FIFA’s rule obliging clubs to release under-23 players for the tournament.
Barcelona initially refused and took him off to a pre-season training camp in Scotland. Eventually, they allowed him to join Argentina in China, but appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the FIFA ruling. CAS has now ruled in Barcelona’s favour.
Winning an Olympic gold is almost as prestigious as the World Cup for South American footballers. Messi has made it clear that he wants to play for his country and it certainly seems more appealing than facing Wisla Krakow in a Champions League preliminary round, which Barcelona should be able to stroll through in any case.
Barcelona have made their point and won their case. If they drag Messi all the way back to Europe, he is hardly likely to be in the best of motivation or physical shape and they are guaranteed to win themselves a reputation for being spoilsports.
Letting him stay in China would be a much-needed public relations coup for them and Spanish clubs in general.
PHOTO: Messi in training at the Beijing 2008 Olympics in Shanghai, August 6, 2008. REUTERS/Aly Song