Published November 20, 2014
Europe's top soccer clubs hate it. National team coaches don't like it. The global players' union thinks FIFA should stop it.
"It" arrives Wednesday, the annual August date protected for national team exhibitions — probably the least loved part of soccer's international calendar.
The official FIFA document that plans matches in four-year cycles, and orders clubs when to hand over their players for national duty, is giving the scandal-hit governing body a problem it doesn't need.
Yet much of FIFA President Sepp Blatter's increasingly hostile "football family" doesn't believe these early games are worth keeping. Not when it interrupts clubs' tours and players' preparation for the new season.
"It's the international managers who aren't very happy about matches in August," France coach Laurent Blanc said last week, while reluctantly preparing to host Chile's team that impressed at the Copa America last month.
"I don't think it's the best way to prepare for a season of international matches," said Blanc, seeming to undermine the basic reason for an August match.
Club coaches are also unhappy.
Barcelona boss Pep Guardiola hasn't even seen his $37 million offseason signing, Chile winger Alexis Sanchez, in training yet.
"We're fighting a losing battle," Guardiola said during the European champion's U.S. trip last week. "National teams control everything and will continue to set the agenda."
Guardiola is also losing eight players to Spain duty until next Thursday, just as Bayern Munich is obliged by FIFA rules to hand over eight who have been selected for Germany and must report at least 48 hours before the game.
"That date in August is a very bad one and we have to change that. As soon as possible," Theo van Seggelen, secretary general of the FIFPro players' unions group, told The Associated Press.
Players are caught up in a long-standing fight for their loyalty between clubs, whose contracts they must obey, and countries, who have FIFA's backing to use the players they want without guaranteeing to return them in good health.
Blatter's re-election in June, with the endorsement of 186 countries, was a reminder that FIFA primarily answers to its 208 member federations, who send national teams to its competitions.
The international calendar fixes four-year schedules for the World Cup, continental championships, qualifiers and exhibitions, after final approval from the FIFA 24-man executive committee.
However, European club officials were shocked to discover the detailed 2011-14 calendar completed at a June 2010 FIFA meeting in Johannesburg.
Long frustrated that FIFA appears to ignore his members, European Club Association chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge has called for a "revolution" to make soccer more democratic, and openly questioned whether Blatter is fit to run the sport.
"We feel that our requests have been ignored too much and for too long," ECA vice chairman Umberto Gandini told the AP. "It is necessary to raise the bar and get attention to our case."
Gandini said that canceling the August date was symbolic, and would show that FIFA respected clubs' needs at a "delicate time of the new season."
"It is merely used to generate revenues with little or no technical value," said Gandini, an AC Milan director.
The German and Brazilian federations will earn well from a sold-out 60,000 crowd in Stuttgart, and worldwide broadcast rights deals.
"The crowds and audiences cannot lie — these are big events," said Philipp Grothe of the Kentaro agency that markets Brazil matches, and owns rights to nine others on Wednesday, including U.S.-Mexico and Kazakhstan-Syria.
The German-owned agency claims to have revived the fading popularity of exhibitions in 2005 by staging England's 3-2 victory over Argentina in Geneva, setting a trend for glamour games in neutral venues.
"The concept we further developed with Argentina and Brazil was bringing these games back on the landscape," Grothe told the AP. "Players are completely differently motivated."
Still, FIFPro's van Seggelen will argue for ending August international soccer when he and his colleagues on FIFA's Task Force Football 2014, including Franz Beckenbauer and Pele, next gather in Zurich in October.
"We cannot change it for next week, but next year at least," the Dutch lawyer said. "Then everybody seems to be happy."
FIFA declined to say if the current calendar can be changed, but said it would consult widely to set the 2015-18 dates. Blatter has shown little willingness to speak with European clubs, whose $1 billion share of annual prize money from the Champions League matches FIFA's total revenue.
Meanwhile, Blatter's own members — or the coaches they hire — are dissatisfied.
"I am not very happy for the players. I am not very happy for me," England coach Fabio Capello said Friday. "This period is really difficult."
AP Sports Writers Jerome Pugmire in Paris, Rob Harris in London, Andrew Dampf in Rome and Paul Logothetis in Madrid contributed to this report.