Italy strike proves player power is growing

MILAN - The Italian footballers' association has called a strike for the top-flight Serie A matches on September 25 and 26, dealing a blow to league bosses who had hoped to curtail player power in the modern game.

The strike is over the lack of a collective contract between the trade union and the clubs guaranteeing players' basic rights.

The association is also unhappy with clubs trying to force its members to move teams before the end of their contracts when they are no longer required.

Fans, pundits, federation officials, governments and club owners across the football world have long complained about the vast amount of money top soccer players earn for what many young people would choose to do for free if they had the chance.

The idea of player power has entered the football vocabulary in recent years especially when it comes to footballers demanding or more often than not getting transfers to bigger clubs despite being contracted to another team.

Now the boot is on the other foot and it is the players in Serie A who feel they are "being treated like objects" by clubs who tell them they are no longer wanted and try to force them to move teams irrespective of having a contract.

The proposed strike and the fallout could lead to detailed changes in how football contracts work, much like the Bosman case which allowed players to walk away from a club once their contract ended.

Some Serie A club bosses want to be able to rip up the final year of an underperforming or overly expensive player's contract and only pay him 50 percent of what he would have been due that season to make him leave for another club.

But players who see out their contracts despite barely playing, accused by detractors of picking up huge cheques for no work, believe the law is on their side.

The strike could have implications for other football and sports leagues all over the world. The Italian players' association, which has held strikes in the distant past, has recently talked of striking again over a series of disputes but they were often viewed as empty threats.

Now the strike looks set to go ahead, with AC Milan defender and association member Massimo Oddo saying it will definitely happen, Serie A players have sent a powerful message that they can cripple a multi-million dollar industry just like that.

It could encourage other disaffected player unions to seek similar action, with industrial disputes being largely confined to American sports like NHL in recent years.

The financial impact of the strike on Serie A, which broke away from the rest of the Italian league at the start of the season, could be sizeable.

Television broadcasters and sponsors will not be amused and any threats of further strike action could further paralyse the league, which has only just recovered from a 2006 match-fixing scandal which seriously damaged the brand.

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