Strikes and Cassano make for decisive week in Italy

MILAN - Italian football could lurch into a new crisis this week if the players' union calls a strike over contracts and the national side's main striker Antonio Cassano is left without a club in a separate but connected dispute.

Serie A is no stranger to controversy, with the 2006 match-fixing scandal and hooligan problems still fresh in the memory, but the coming days are likely to offer as much drama and suspense as any top-flight match.

The union, at odds with the league over a new collective contract which lays down the basic rights of soccer players, postponed a strike in September to allow more talks but Tuesday's deadline for an agreement is fast approaching.

Serie A's demands over marginalising or force-selling unwanted players has angered the union so much that new strike dates are set to be announced unless a late deal is reached.

"They have a stance which is wholly unacceptable," union chief Sergio Campana told Reuters.

"A club can't make a player leave if the player is under contract and does not want to move. A player also has the right to train with the first team."

Italy's Olympic Committee has called a hearing of its High Court for Wednesday but with the union saying strike action could be called after Tuesday, it may come too late.

"I think we must respect the timing of the High Court, which is carrying out a fundamental role in finding a solution and it must be allowed to make its judgement serenely," Italian football federation chief Giancarlo Abete told reporters.


The union's point about players being marginalised follows three high-profile cases this season.

Sampdoria forward Cassano, who had appeared to have put his bad-boy image behind him, has been suspended by the club for the last month after verbally abusing president Riccardo Garrone.

Friday's arbitration hearing, which may not make a final decision, will see whether Samp's stance is legal and whether Cassano breached his contract and so is now a free agent.

The ex-Real Madrid man has apologised and wants to stay but his contract being void could prompt a scramble for his signature, although his behaviour could equally put suitors off.

Inter Milan, in need of an extra forward, have been cautious about their chances of signing him and a more prolonged absence from the game will hit Cassano's Italy starting spot.

Italy 2010 World Cup goalkeeper Federico Marchetti is awaiting a new arbitration hearing over a similar dispute with Cagliari while Fabio Grosso was dropped from the Juventus squad only to be recalled recently, strengthening the union's case.

Scandal is never far from the headlines in Italian football and several other probes continue this week.

The long-running criminal trial into the 2006 match-fixing affair has brought up new phone tap evidence which the federation is reviewing to see if previously innocent Inter were involved in the scandal, something the champions deny.

Financial problems at Bologna have also led to a federation investigation which could lead to a points deduction.