Serie A players to strike over contract dispute

MILAN - Rebellious Serie A players announced plans to strike during matches on September 25 and 26 because of a contract dispute, throwing Italian football into more disarray on Friday and spooking other leagues and sports.

The Italian footballers' association has been sabre-rattling for months after a collective contract between the trade union and the league guaranteeing players' basic rights expired in the close-season and talks over a renewal faltered.

"The association, in perfect symphony with the players of Serie A, has decided not to go on the field for the fifth round of matches of the Serie A championship on September 25 and 26 in protest against requests to impose new contractual rules," AC Milan defender Massimo Oddo told a news conference in the city.

A full programme of Serie A games is planned for that weekend and if the strike happens it will cause havoc with broadcasters and the league schedule for the rest of the season.

Italian football has only just recovered from the chaos of a 2006 match-rigging scandal while wholesale changes have been made at the football federation after the national team were dumped out of the World Cup in the group stage as holders.

The players' association, which did strike in 1996 over similar grievances, has threatened to strike again several times in recent seasons over an array of disputes but it has stepped back from the brink or come to an agreement with bosses.

COMPLEX ISSUE

This time the weight of ill-feeling over a complex contract issue has been greater.

"There will definitely be a strike," said union member Oddo, a 2006 Italy World Cup winner who now rarely plays for Milan.

"The strike is against the lack of a new collective contract but also the fact we players feel we are treated like objects."

The top flight Serie A, which formed a breakaway division from the rest of the Italian league at the start of this term with club bosses vowing to run things their way, had said they would propose a new collective deal this Monday.

"To call a strike is an extreme choice," league chief Maurizio Beretta said in a statement having arranged his own hastily arranged news conference in Rome.

"The idea of arriving at the negotiating table with a loaded gun is not the best way to forge agreement."

Allied to the absence of a collective agreement, the players' association has become alarmed by the trend of clubs trying to force players to move teams in the last year of their contracts when they are no longer wanted.

Fans and some club presidents have long lamented the vast amount of money top football players are paid and the fact that if a footballer wants to move clubs he can invariably force through a transfer by inferring he will not give his all for his team.

The association has hit back by saying some clubs had wanted to rip up the last year of a contract of a well-paid player they no longer wanted and only pay him 50 percent of what he was due.

Professor Tom Cannon of Liverpool University, an expert in football finance, said other leagues would quiver at the strike prospect even though the issue is centred on Italy for now.

"Owners are trying to get more control of their own finances," he told Reuters. "The issues emerging in Italy have not arisen in England or Spain yet but clearly there are financial concerns across Europe.

"I still don't think the strike will happen. My expectation is a deal will be done but it's not impossible."

Serie A matches will be played as normal this weekend.

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