Serie A: striking the right chord at last

The focus returns to the pitch after action averted following disagreements over the standard contract renewal.

Italian Serie A President Maurizio Beretta, center, is surrounded by reporters he arrives for talks with the Italian Players' Association and Serie A officials, at the federation headquarters, in Rome, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010. The Italian Players' Association and Serie A officials have been summoned for emergency talks Tuesday to try to avert a strike called for this weekend. Abete has set up the negotiations. The players' union is refusing to accept a proposal that clubs be allowed to force unwanted players to train away from the first team or accept a transfer, and there are other issues as well. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia) *** Local Caption ***  ROM107_Italy_Serie_A_Strike.jpg
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Almost a full schedule of top-flight matches will go ahead in Italy this weekend, the threat of a strike by Serie A players having been averted around the negotiating table.

A sigh of relief from those who run and finance the game could be detected at the official announcement that the players' union had accepted the compromises over contracts that were at the centre of the dispute; a relief shared by most clubs except perhaps Inter Milan, who, because they are in Abu Dhabi for the Club World Cup, would have welcomed their rivals also having to catch up on fixtures in the new year, as Inter are obliged to do.

The disagreements concerned the proposed renewal of the standard contract that exists in Italy between players and employers. While clearly elements such as salaries are variable from case to case, contracts have a number of common elements and the players' union, AIC, had problems with eight clauses. The AIC had already threatened to down tools in September - the first time Italian football would have been affected by such radical industrial action by its players for 14 years - and lifted that threat after the league agreed to talks. The Italian Football Association offered to mediate and the league will publish on Monday the agreed text of a new agreement on the rights of players.

One issue is still pending, however: that is the right of clubs - or normally club presidents and coaches - to exclude senior players from first-team training.

As a management device, the banishment of footballers to practise with the reserves has long been an important tool in a coach's workshop, usually to motivate a player whose form or effort levels have slipped.

But it has also been used by club presidents or directors to penalise footballers in contract disputes, which is what angers the AIC.

They would point to events at Lazio last season, where Goran Pandev, the Macedonian striker, and Cristian Ledesma, the Argentina-born midfielder - who is now an Italy international - were banished from practice with the first team after their contract renewal talks broke down.

Claudio Lotito, the Lazio president, ordered that the players be marginalised. Pandev took the issue to arbitration, won his case, and with it the right to join Inter on a free transfer last January.

Ledesma is still at Lazio, back in the senior squad, after his plea to arbitration failed on the ground he had, from time to time, been included in senior practice sessions even though he was not picked for the first XI for half a season.

Antonio Cassano, currently marginalised at Sampdoria, has a particular interest in this aspect of any future agreement.

Further talks between league and the AIC on that issue are scheduled, though full agreement has been reached on whether players have the right to refuse a transfer if the buying club is "of equal status" to the selling club in these cases, as long as the wages offered are equivalent. Again, a high-profile case occurred recently, when Fabio Grosso, the Italian World Cup winner, was offered by Juventus to AC Milan, who were interested in the left-back. Grosso refused the move.

Though some fuzzy definitions remain in the clause governing such cases - lawyers will be encouraged by that - the league believe that the AIC is happy with the way the issue is now handled.

"A strike would have been poor publicity for Italian football," said Gianni Petrucci, the head of the country's Olympic committee. Not least in a week when Inter and Milan both lost in the Champions League and Roma drew with Cluj of Romania.

So as of today, the focus is one the right sort of strikers, the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who, against Bologna, will seek to maintain Milan's advantage at the top and secure his own pre-emimence in the scoring charts by overtaking the absent Samuel Eto'o, of Inter.