It's not all glitz and glamour in world of the beautiful game
FIFPRO TOURNAMENT:If the glitz and glamour associated with the Champions League these days represents the ongoing boom at the very top end of European club football then yesterday’s Fifpro Winter Tournament in Oslo provides a little sense of the bust.
In a chilly indoor arena on the outskirts of the Norwegian capital 60 or so out-of-contract professionals, a quarter of them local, the rest representing Sweden, Finland or Ireland, played two games apiece and hoped, as they wandered towards the dressing-rooms after the second, that they had done enough to catch an eye and maybe kick-start careers, many of which are, temporarily at least, currently in the doldrums.
The games are televised locally but the live audience, in stark contrast to the biggest club games, is tiny and comprised almost exclusively of just one demographic really: middle-aged men. Perhaps a couple of hundred coaches, scouts and agents sit, largely impassive, taking the odd note or placing a tick beside a name.
Only the winners will be notified.
Fifpro, who fund the entire enterprise out of its members’ dues and substantial commercial revenues, is the international players’ union and its local affiliates, including the PFAI, organise the participating teams and finance any preparations prior to departure.
For the international organisation, the event – like a similar one being staged for six South American nations in Peru today – has some potential to generate a return of sorts in addition to the obvious service provided to members.
Participating players were testing shinguards made of what is said to be a revolutionary new material for an American manufacturer yesterday while Fifa were there with researchers from Loughborough University working on the development of a new ball for the 2018 World Cup.
For Fifa’s purposes the relatively lowly status of the players is actually an advantage. They are professionals whose opinions are respected but the absence of brand loyalties inspired by club or personal endorsement deals is considered a major plus.
The PFAI’s outlay, meanwhile, is about €10,000, considerable in the context of its rather modest annual discretionary spend but well worthwhile according to its general secretary, Stephen McGuinness, who was one of those behind the idea three years ago of replicating the already successful Fifpro tournament for those players whose leagues run through the summer months.
“The idea is that a player can be signed by any club,” he says, “and the Norwegian ones are obviously the best represented but I think a lot of our lads come to remind managers back home of their availability.”
Every Irish player to take part in each of the last two seasons has subsequently got a new contract but with club finances stabilising, many players being snapped up earlier and this year’s tournament taking place several weeks later than usual, things are still becoming a little anxious for many of this group.
Wages are low
Though improving a little again, wages are low – the average in the Premier Division is about €500 per week with almost everyone on single-season contracts running for between 33 and 42 weeks – and most players have to find ways to supplement their football income either on an ongoing or seasonal basis with many looking to get jobs in shops or with the likes of An Post over the Christmas period.