PARIS – Arsenal wouldn't get a penny in compensation from France or Wales if Samir Nasri or Aaron Ramsey are hurt playing for their national teams Tuesday. Yet the London club could get a tidy insurance payout if Jack Wilshere picks up an injury marshaling England's midfield against Ghana.
Such are the bizarre vagaries and inconsistencies of injury insurance and compensation in soccer. No wonder, then, that Europe's top clubs want changes from world governing body FIFA.
Most national teams don't insure players against injury because, under FIFA's rules, they don't have to. Instead, FIFA makes clubs foot the bill. Not only must clubs release players for national duties, they must insure them against injury and accidents while they are away and continue to cover their wages when players return limping from national matches and training camps. That is like being obliged to lend your car to a friend and being forced to pay the repairs if he slams it into a wall.
"It's a very abnormal situation," says Michele Centenaro, general secretary of the European Club Association that represents nearly 200 of the continent's leading clubs.
The ECA wants FIFA instead to take out a collective insurance that would pay clubs' compensation when players return injured from national duty, helping to cover their wages — which these days are often massive — while they are sidelined. Centenaro says such a measure could help thaw the sometimes fraught relations between national teams and the clubs they rely on to lend them players.
"It's not really about money, it's about the principle," he said in a phone interview. "It would release tensions and relax situations when it comes to calling players and clubs releasing players. We have difficulty to understand how there cannot be an easy solution."
Players are proud to represent their countries. A national call-up is prestigious for players' clubs, too. But it does not seem fair that the clubs alone should have to pay for that honor.
Jean-Michel Aulas, president of French side Lyon, suggests clubs could dig in their heels against national demands and "no longer accept the release of players systematically" if a solution isn't found.
A collective insurance plan would be "nothing more than logical and normal," Centenaro says more diplomatically.
Another of the current system's flaws is that it is unevenly applied.
England's Football Association does insure against player injury, but that makes it one of the few. The FA opts to do so "because of our relationship with the clubs; we are borrowing their assets" and because it is lucky enough to be able to afford such coverage, says its general secretary, Alex Horne. The FA's insurance pays up to $160,000 per week, for up to 100 weeks, to clubs to help cover their wages when players are hurt on England duty, Horne said in an interview.
That means that if Tottenham, which is heavily committed in the Champions League and Premier League, is unlucky enough to lose Peter Crouch, Aaron Lennon or Jermain Defoe to injury when England plays Ghana on Tuesday, then at least the club should see some cash.
France, however, won't compensate Chelsea or Arsenal or any club should Florent Malouda or Nasri or any other player get hurt Tuesday against Croatia. Like the English FA, the French federation used to have insurance. But it stopped paying the premiums a few years ago, says the federation's treasurer, Bernard Desumer. Because clubs are supposed to insure their players, even when they away with the national team, "I said to myself we are wasting money," says Desumer.
Wales is another example of a federation that doesn't pay — so Arsenal should hope that Ramsey, its young midfielder, isn't injured playing for the Welsh under-21 team against Andorra. The Wales FA president, Philip Pritchard, says his organization isn't wealthy enough to pay compensation to clubs and couldn't afford insurance if the rules were changed.
"It would kill a small association like us," he said. "The lifeblood of the small countries would be eliminated."
Both FIFA and soccer's governing body in Europe, UEFA, point out that clubs do get compensation for releasing their players for the World Cup and European Championships. In all, those two bodies say they will be sharing a total of $208 million with clubs from the World Cups of 2010 and 2014 and the Euros of 2008 and 2012. Part of that money is meant to help cover clubs' insurance payments.
One possible alternative, at least for World Cups, might be to put some of the shared-out FIFA payment from 2014 into a collective insurance fund, says FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke. His UEFA counterpart, Gianni Infantino, says a collective insurance system is feasible but is "probably quite expensive."
"It's clear that we need to look at all this closely," he says. "It's clear that we need to discuss it."
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org