Messi takes a step closer to Beijing

July 30, 2008

Messi scoresBarcelona’s Argentine forward Lionel Messi took a step closer to Beijing on Wednesday when FIFA ruled that clubs are obliged to release players aged 23 or under to play at the Olympics.

Barcelona and Bundesliga clubs Werder Bremen and Schalke, who want to keep Diego and Rafinha out of the Games, will probably fight on in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) but for now FIFA has made the right decision, one that’s for the good of the game as well as the Games.

Seeing Bremen and Schalke threaten legal action against their young Brazilian internationals earlier this month was a sad sight not only for the Olympics but for soccer.

Diego and Rafinha decided (quite nobly, if you ask me) to put their country and the Olympics temporarily ahead of their club careers and defied the orders of their employers — going AWOL in the process and putting themselves in line for large fines and other disciplinary problems on their return.

Barcelona and Schalke have Champions League qualifiers coming up, so it’s easy to see why they in particular want their players back home, but the long-term consequences could be more damaging than the short-term loss.

How can anyone expect a brilliant player like Diego to get excited about playing in Bremen ever again if he is forced to miss the Olympics in order to take part in a pre-season Bundesliga training camp on the North Sea island of Norderney?

Could we expect Rafinha to have his heart in the Bundesliga’s first two matches when his compatriots were trying to win a first gold medal in China?

“(The judge stated that) taking part in the Olympic Games is a unique opportunity for all athletes of any sporting discipline,” FIFA said in its statement.

Shouldn’t everyone have the chance to take that opportunity, regardless of who their employers are?

PHOTO: Messi scores his first goal during Barcelona’s pre-season friendly against Dundee United, July 26, 2008. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne


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Barcelona looked very Messi-dependent in their lastf riendly so I can see why they don’t want to lose him but you’re right, athletes who are eligible to be in the Olympics should be able to go if they want to. It’s as simple as that.

Posted by Kevin Fylan | Report as abusive

It may be good news that FIFA have stated their intentions clear but from what I read, Werder Bremen and Schalke are definitely taking their cases to the CAS – id=558607&cc=4716

To answer the question, I agree with Kevin. After all, the Olympics only come once in every four years.

Posted by diana | Report as abusive

I disagree with the notion that Olympic Games are so important that they should automatically justify the participation of players. A player like Rafinha being unavailable for Champions League qualification matches because of a tournament of mediocre sports value is a terrible insult for everybody who invests in that player’s salary and training – and that would be the club, the club’s fans, and the club’s sponsors. Of course it would be nice for a young player to be able to attend, but it would also be nice to be on a Summer camp perfecting surfing skills. These players will return to their clubs after the national and international leagues have started and will be nackred for weeks.

Posted by ThoHa | Report as abusive

Erik, I can understand your point regarding Diego and Rafinha but Messi is special case – not necessarily because as Kevin says, Barca is dependent on the player but more because he has been injury prone. On this point I see Messi being a little selfish. He should get himself properly healthy – meaning he plays a full season without serious injury and leads Barca to atleast one trophy – and then he should look to play for Argentina in the next international phase – either World Cup qualifying or the World Cup itself. Barca deserves this and so does the player himself. A guy with Messi’s body should be much more deliberate about how he uses it.

Posted by Beautifulgamer | Report as abusive

Sorry ThoHa and BG — Any club (even Barcelona) that signs a talented young under 23 player should simply know that there is this risk of him being called up by his country for the Olympics. What’s the point of having 2 sets of rules? One for the Haves and one for the Have Nots? Does anyone ever really consider this from the players’ P.O.V? Will an Olympics spice up and enhance a player’s career? Or will it be a burden? I think if you look back at some of the comments from former Olympic soccer players (see Juergen Klinsmann’s comments on that) you’ll see what I mean.

Posted by Erik Kirschbaum | Report as abusive

I think it comes down to having a clear ruling that becomes part of the contracts. I am sure FIFA and IOC will learn their lesson from this year, as it has seriously damaged the relationship between some great young (and let’s say: diplomatically yet unskilled) players and their clubs.

Posted by ThoHa | Report as abusive

They absolutely should Eric, I agree with FIFA on this hands down. Messi will only miss Barca’s 3rd round CL qualifiers with Beitar Jerusalem or Wisla Krakow, if they can’t get through with or without him they don’t deserve to go through. But that’s not what this is about — it’s about top clubs trying to prove they are above the law and it’s only right to make sure they are not.

Posted by Red Devil | Report as abusive

@ Beautifulgamer: It’s Barcelona who are being selfish and not Messi. There can be no “special cases” mate, or at least there shouldn’t be, rules are rules and they should apply to everyone.

Posted by Red Devil | Report as abusive

Erik, are you referring to this (regarding what Juergen Klinsmann has to say)?

‘The moment I received the bronze medal in the Olympics in Seoul 1988 when Germany beat Italy it was my number one outstanding emotion’.

FIFA President Sepp Blatter quoted what Klinsmann wrote in his book today. Until now, I only vaguely remembered what Klinsmann has to say of his own Olympic experience.  ,16368,3033_3909660,00.html

Posted by diana | Report as abusive

Yes, exactly. Klinsmann has raved about his Olympics’ experience…and he practices what he preaches now as a coach too. Bayern have released their two U-23 players, Breno to Brazil and Jose Ernesto Sosa to Argentina, without a lot of fanfare. I had a chance earlier this year to briefly talk to Klinsmann directly about that club/Olympics conflict over China and he said he saw no problem with allowing a reasonable number of players go. He did, however, not want the whole team going or even half of it running off — and understandably turned down requests from players OVER 23 who wanted to go: Martin Demichelis of Argentina, Lucio of Brazil and Mark van Bommel of the Netherlands. There wasn’t a lot of complaining. And I’ll bet Breno and Sosa will come back better, happier players (with valuable international experience) than they would have been had they been forced to stay in Germany. I just can’t imagine how enthused Diego and Rafinha could be for their clubs if they had been chained down to Germany instead of going to China.

Posted by Erik | Report as abusive

let the players play.

Posted by kovosoccer | Report as abusive

I can see why they don’t want to lose him but you’re right, athletes who are eligible to be in the Olympics should be able to go if they want.

Posted by honest | Report as abusive

I can see why they don’t want to lose him but you’re right, athletes who are eligible to be in the Olympics should be able to go.

Posted by honest | Report as abusive

they don’t want to lose him but you’re right, athletes who are eligible to be in the Olympics should be able to go..

Posted by honest | Report as abusive