ZURICH: FIFA managed to get its retaliation in first today in the increasingly acrimonious club v country row with the European Club Association and its antagonistic chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge writes KEIR RADNEDGE.

ECA, representing Europe’s leading clubs, concludes a two-day conference today in Warsaw at which it discussed a string of issues but none more delicate than its demand for national team matches to be cut back.

It has already withdrawn from scheduled discussions with FIFA and other federations next week out of a stated impatience at a lack of progress – which means the refusal of FIFA to buckle under to its own demands.

That is the background to the statement issued by FIFA this morning which, will couched in diplomatically polite language, reminds the European clubs that the international calendar has to fit the needs of the entire world not merely one comparatively small sectional interest.

FIFA says: “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.

“In fact, following a discussion between FIFA and all six confederations, a working group which includes all relevant stakeholders (FIFA, confederations, national associations, clubs, players) will discuss the next international match calendar at a meeting on 5 March at the FIFA headquarters with the objective of reaching a unanimous consensus in order to make it simpler and easier for all stakeholders and to answer the club’s concerns while keeping in mind the interests of the national associations and the players.

“Both ECA chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and ECA general secretary Michele Centenaro are members of this working group and have been invited to attend the meeting, but have declined to take part in the meeting. 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.”