Players must be given greater say in changes to football calendar – FIFPRO

Jamie Gardner, PA Chief Sports Reporter
·3-min read

The voice of footballers cannot be ignored any longer when it comes to adding extra matches to the calendar, according to the head of the world players’ union.

The threat of a breakaway European Super League overshadowed the approval of a new 36-team format for the Champions League on April 19, which will involve at least four extra matches per club compared to now.

Manchester City midfielder Ilkay Gundogan tweeted about the changes last week, describing them as “the lesser of two evils” compared to the Super League and asking: “Is no one thinking about us players?”

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Jonas Baer-Hoffmann, the general secretary of FIFPRO, believes it is vital players are consulted with properly in the future.

“I think the voices can’t be ignored,” he told the PA news agency.

“It’s in everybody’s interest – especially in the interest of bodies meant to represent the width of the professional football pyramid – to give those voices more account.

“It’s clear that the players have an expectation to sit at the table.”

Players were praised for speaking out against the plans for a Super League, and Baer-Hoffmann added: “I’m pretty sure a continuous accountability to (players’ and fans’) voices would never have taken us to this point of escalation and conflict.

“The reality was that none of the players actually knew a thing (about the breakaway) – none of them had been consulted.

“Likewise, they weren’t consulted either on the idea that they may be banned from playing for their country, which was something they were very concerned about, and that just shows that it was not the players who made these decisions, it was not the players whose input was actually critical in these decisions, and that needs changing.”

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FIFPRO said last Monday it would “vigorously oppose” any attempt to bar players from the breakaway clubs from World Cups and European Championships, with Baer-Hoffmann viewing the whole affair as a failure of governance.

He added: “On the one hand you had these clubs, who didn’t inform their players about what was going on and let them face the media backlash, even though they have no responsibility for the decision of the owners, and on the other hand, we had the immediate threat, essentially, that they may be banned from competitions.

“We thought they were essentially used as a pawn in this game of commercial interest, which is just completely unacceptable given they don’t even have the stake in the governance of these decisions that they should have.”

On the threat of banning players, he added: “It’s not justified, and neither was the behaviour I think of the club owners on the other side.

“The reality is we didn’t think that (a ban) would actually happen, and we felt very certain that we could give the players assurances that we could prevent this one because we think legally there are good grounds.”

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FIFPRO continues to call for an international set of standards governing rest periods between seasons, mid-season, and minimum recovery periods between matches.

“Players need to be at their best when they play, and that is simply not 80 times a year,” he said.

“The calendar has been a real mess of congestion really.”