As many European sides prevent their players from traveling to Beijing this summer, Premier League clubs seem only too eager to be burned by the Olympic flame. Frustrated fans of the English sides are asking: Are they rolling over too easily?
Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City are resigned to losing key players in Anderson, Kalou and Jo. But facing the most devastating losses of all are Liverpool, who will be without key holding midfielder Mascherano, his understudy Lucas, and impact player Ryan Babel, for the first few weeks of the season.
There is an understanding that players under the age of 23 may be called up to represent their countries at the Olympic tournament, which explains Werder Bremen’s refusal to release 23-year-old Diego. Yet, though English sides allow players of all ages to attend, Barcelona are holding on to 21-year-old Lionel Messi, and Schalke 04 will not part with Rafinha, who is only 22.
Clubs see players as investments, and resent losing key squad members to international competitions that interfere with domestic league timetables. Every year, Premier League managers bemoan the African Nations Cup and various “pointless” friendlies their players must attend. But events are FIFA-endorsed, and clubs can expect compensation if players are injured on international duty — as Newcastle did when Michael Owen collapsed in the 2006 World Cup. Also, the Euros, the World Cup and the African Nations can do much to increase the value of a player if he performs well.
However, there are few advantages in letting a player go to the Olympics. It is not an official FIFA event, it disrupts domestic league games and Champions League qualifiers, and it is not considered a “serious” football tournament, at least in England.
Perhaps English clubs are predicting that a FIFA ruling expected to come next week will force European teams to allow their stars to fulfill their Olympic ambitions, in which case their decision to cooperate is probably wise. Or maybe they just don’t want to upset players who value the Olympic football tournament far more highly than the average English fan. But if other European sides are ultimately successful in their bid to keep hold of their best players, serious questions need to be asked of Premier League clubs who don’t put up a similar fight.