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PostPosted: Thu Jan 22, 2004 7:39 pm 
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Nations-Blatter softens player-release stance

By Trevor Huggins

TUNIS, Jan 22 (Reuters) - FIFA president Sepp Blatter hinted on Thursday that European clubs might not have to release their players two weeks in advance of future African Nations Cup tournaments.

The 24th Nations Cup, which kicks off in Tunis on Saturday, has been dogged by complaints from French and English clubs reluctant to free their players in the middle of their domestic seasons.

"It is a question of how long before the start of the competition they should be released," Blatter told reporters during an African Football Confederation (CAF) general assembly.

"According to our regulations, it should be two weeks and I think it's a little bit long because with two weeks and then three weeks of competition, if you go through to the end, it's five weeks."

Clubs in France have lost nearly 80 players and in England over 20 to the finals in Tunisia.

However, Blatter played down calls to move the African Nations Cup to the European close season.

"Definitely, from a climactical point of view, there are only a few African countries where you can play in the summer," he said.

A number of top African players have arrived well after the two-weeks deadline while others, such as Inter Milan's Nigeria striker Obafemi Martins, have pulled out of the tournament to concentrate on their club careers.

Blatter said European clubs should show their respect for African football when it came to releasing players.

"The problem here is that the African Nations Cup is part of the international coordinated calendar and the European clubs knew they have to release the players," he said.

"There must be some solidarity around the world. I think that releasing players for national team duties is (a sign of) respect towards a national association or a country."


Blatter said he did not brand the clubs' approach as arrogant, saying: "I would never use that word. We shall solve all the problems...we've had this year with dialogue.

"We are a Fair-Play game. Our slogan is 'we are the Fair-Play family' so if there are problems, let's face them, sit together and solve them. We shouldn't speak about arrogance or indiscipline."

The issue has been exacerbated by a recent FIFA rule change which allows players to switch footballing nationalities if they have only represented another country at junior level.

Standing by the change, Blatter said in a speech: "In a world where migrations are an integral part of both professional and personal life, it was essential for FIFA to come to the aid of these young talented players."

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