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At the Maracanã on 14 July, tactical skill triumphed over individual genius, as Germany lifted the World Cup for the first time following re-unification in 1989. It is hard to imagine a better way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall. Germany stood out because of the way its players functioned as a team and it was fitting that the winning goal was scored by a 22-year old substitute, Mario Goetze. That team is also a testament to the strength of its national league. Nine of the 11 players starting against Argentina play in the Bundesliga. In 2013, Bayern Munich won the UEFA Champions League, defeating another Bundesliga club, Borussia Dortmund, in the final. All 26 players from the two teamsheets were eligible for the national side.
The South American contenders, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay, relied on individual genius, which failed to materialise when it mattered. Messi, Neymar and Suárez are all exiles from their home countries, playing for rich European teams, who need their expensive stars to function in the domestic leagues. This brings us to the thorny question of player insurance.
At every World Cup, the question of club compensation for players injured whilst on international duty arises. Following 2006, where Michael Owen was injured at the World Cup, FIFA paid $40 million to domestic clubs for the 2010 World Cup. This was the first time that FIFA had compensated clubs for the use of players during the World Cup, and spurred into action the FIFA Club Protection Programme. It remains to be seen whether this will be enough to compensate FC Barcelona for Neymar’s injury.
However, as our main news story illustrates, FIFA may have just raised the stakes. FIFA’s ban on Suárez represents the first time that FIFA has banned a player from all forms of football based on on-field conduct during an international game. Until now, clubs could be sure that although a player may get injured on international duty, any suspension would be served on the international stage. Now, they must factor in that their prize assets could also become unavailable for the domestic league due to a silly moment in a highly emotive national game. With UEFA’s Financial Fair Play Regulations putting European clubs under increasing financial pressure, this could affect player contracts and - consequently - insurance agreements.
It is obvious that for clubs, international tournaments are a risky concept. FIFA regulations mean that clubs must make their prize assets available for a highly-charged emotive tournament, often with games played in a short time frame. Harry Redknapp caused controversy after England’s exit by suggesting that players are not always keen to take part in international games. It is difficult to gauge whether that holds true for the World Cup, but you can bet that some clubs will breathe a sigh of relief when their stars are not selected for the World Cup.
It remains to be seen how Suárez’s ban will play out. The Uruguayan FA could appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, however if they do, they risk suspending his four-month ban until the case is decided. If this happens, Neymar could be suspended during crucial international games. They may not wish to take that risk. If they decide to accept the ban, do FC Barcelona have grounds to appeal the ban? We found it difficult to find a lawyer to answer that question…