Clubs and UEFA agree to drop August friendlies
WARSAW (Reuters) -- Europe's leading soccer clubs hailed a 'major breakthrough' on Tuesday after agreeing with UEFA to drop the unpopular August date for international friendlies.
European Clubs Association (ECA) chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, in an address to the body's general assembly in Warsaw, said an agreement had been reached with the European governing body over scrapping the date.
However the German warned that world body FIFA had yet to sanction the move.
FIFA itself said it was surprised by recent developments at the ECA, saying the association had hindered progress on the international calendar because its members had declined to attend FIFA committee meetings.
ECA said that it and UEFA had agreed that the international calendar would be made up of nine double-headers covering a two-year period, with no single friendlies.
In a new Memorandum of Understanding between UEFA and the clubs, they agreed that the two matches of the double date for friendlies should be played on the same continent.
The final tournaments of all confederations would end in mid-July in future, and players would not be expected to play in more than one international tournament a year.
The ECA, comprising Europe's top 201 clubs, also reached agreement over insurance payments for players injured while on international duty, starting at Euro 2012.
It agreed an increase in benefits from UEFA for clubs whose players were involved in Euro 2012 and Euro 2016, with the increases to be announced at the UEFA Congress in Istanbul next month.
With so many more African players now with European clubs, it was agreed that the Africa Cup of Nations should start as early as possible in January, when it was staged.
Rummenigge said the agreement was "a major break-through for European club football".
"With this agreement, UEFA clearly recognises the importance of clubs and the significant contribution they make to the success of national team football," he added.
"The negotiations have not always proved easy, but were always conducted in a fair and respectful manner.
"I sincerely thank UEFA, in particular UEFA President (Michel) Platini, on behalf of all European clubs and look forward to our continued cooperation. This is once more a proof that in the European football family solutions can be found in a cooperative and fair way."
However, the German said problems remained with FIFA, adding: "Unfortunately, discussions with the FIFA president have failed to lead to a satisfactory outcome which takes account of the clubs' demands."
In a statement, world soccer's governing body replied: "FIFA is surprised by recent comments made by ECA stating that they are not satisfied with their discussions with football's world governing body regarding topics of interest to the European clubs, including the international match calendar.
"ECA representatives are in fact members of several FIFA committees and are always invited to take part in the discussions on such topics, together with representatives from clubs of other confederations."
It said a meeting would be held at FIFA's Zurich headquarters on March 5, involving representatives of continental confederations, national associations, clubs and players to discuss the international match calendar.
FIFA said the aim was to reach "a unanimous consensus in order to make it simpler and easier for all stakeholders and to answer the clubs' concerns while keeping in mind the interests of the national associations and the players."
FIFA added: "Both ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and ECA general secretary Michele Centenar...have been invited to attend the meeting, but have declined to take part.
"ECA representatives have previously declined attendance to other FIFA committee meetings, making it very difficult for progress to be made in discussions with the European clubs.
"FIFA remains, as always, willing to discuss with ECA on these topics, as it does with all other stakeholders in the world football community.
"Finally, FIFA would like to recall that the international dates and the international match calendar have to be applied on a worldwide basis and that this calendar is ultimately regulated by FIFA, as football's world governing body."
The new Memorandum, starting on June 1 and running until May 30 2018, also includes a new clause allowing clubs a "referral right" on all decisions affecting club football.
No decision relating to club football would be taken without the consent of the clubs, both sides agreed.