Gone are the days when soccer players would play for king and country. Not that national pride has disappeared, or that international players don't want to succeed on the national squad, but it is simply no longer enough. In these grossly capitalistic times, even players who rake in millions of dollars, euros or pounds during the regular season playing for their clubs want to be paid extra for participating in the upcoming Euro 2008 soccer tournament in Austria and Switzerland.
Some national teams have settled the issue of payment in advance. German international Michael Ballack and his teammates sat down with Bundesliga officials a few months ago and reached a deal by which players will be given 50,000 euros if they reach the quarterfinals, 100,000 if they reach the semifinals, 150,000 if they advance to the finals and 250,000 if they win the tournament.
"It's fair," Ballack said after the deal was reached. "It will motivate the players a little more." Spain, too, has already cut a deal with its players, paying them 30,000 euros for participating in the event as well as a 214,000-euro bonus if they win the title.
Romania's soccer sanctity
But in Romania, the sanctity of soccer lives on and its internationals have rejected setting up a system of monetary incentives. "We are playing for the flag, not for money," said Adrian Mutu, the vice captain of the national team. Romanian billionaire George Becali, whose lavish spending on soccer resembles that of Beitar Jerusalem owner Arcadi Gaydamak, was rebuffed when he offered to pay the national team 250,000 euros per player if they win the title. "Let him spend it on his club or his youth team," the head of the Romanian soccer federation said.
Of course, the bravado exhibited by Romania's players is a bit disingenuous. Should they win the title they will almost certainly be given a cut of the millions made by UEFA from income sources such as selling television rights. Each national team receives 7.5 million euros for qualifying for the tourney. Teams are further awarded for winning or drawing in the group stage as well as for advancing in the playoff stage. The teams that reach the finals will have made 15.5 million euros, and the winner will be given another 7.5 millions euros - a fantastic 23.5 million euros in all.
Clubs claim a piece of the pie
Players aren't the only ones cashing in on international soccer matches: The players' clubs also receive a piece of the action. Clubs are constantly bickering about the risks of injury and lack of rest for their players who take part in international tournaments like the European or World Cup. FIFA has taken two measures to assuage the clubs: Firstly, all players are insured. Their clubs will receive compensation should they be injured. Also, FIFA pays clubs 4,000 euros per day for each soccer player participating in the tourney.
In fact, some English Premier League clubs like Arsenal, Liverpool or Chelsea that each have seven players playing for their national teams in the tournament might make some money this summer. Chelsea, which has three French internationals on its squad, may well be rooting for its neighbors across the Channel as it will cash in 12,000 euros for each day of their participation. At least two of the three are expected to leave the team next season, making the cash even sweeter.
The French club of Lyon has even more to gain than Chelsea as it fields 10 players in the tournament, seven of which play for France. "Finally UEFA and FIFA understand the team's position but it isn't enough," Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas grumbled. "There's room for improvement, especially over the issue of injuries, but it's much better." If France reaches the finals, Lyon will receive 616,000 euros. Even Lyon's Aulas has got to admit that that is a pretty good deal.
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