Spanish football again attacked by ‘FIFA Virus’September 13th, 2008 - 7:59 pm ICT by IANS
Madrid, Sep 13 (DPA) Spanish football has been hit once again by the dreaded “FIFA Virus”.This is the name given by the Spanish media to the problem of La Liga’s most important players leaving to play for their national teams every month or so.
The problem has become more acute in recent years, as Spanish clubs have imported an increasing number of foreign stars.
Nowadays, around half of the players in La Liga are foreigners - and many of them are regularly called up for national team duty.
Across Spain for the past two weeks, as the first World Cup qualifying matches have been played, the Liga clubs have been organising training sessions for just a handful of players - those not called up by their respective federations.
For example, there have only been nine players at the Real Madrid training ground for the past fortnight, whilst new Barcelona coach Josep Guardiola has had to organize training with just 10 squad members, most of them youngsters from the club’s nursery sections.
The clubs were looking forward to Thursday, when the international stars would finally return and start to prepare for the weekend matches.
But the “FIFA Virus” has struck again.
No less than 19 internationals will miss this weekend’s Liga matches because of the injuries or fatigue caused by the World Cup clashes.
The virus has hit Barca and Atletico Madrid with particular virulence, because these two giants have brought forward their games to Saturday in order to have time to prepare for their Champions League matches scheduled for Tuesday.
Guardiola had had no choice but to leave defenders Rafa Marquez and Martin Caceres out of his squad for Saturday’s home game against Racing Santander, due to their late returns from international duty.
Marquez flew in from Mexico on Friday evening, Caceres has still not returned - the same as most Uruguayan internationals - because his flight has been delayed by fog.
Lionel Messi did manage to return on Friday morning, but is in poor physical shape after playing twice for Argentina and will probably start on the bench on Saturday.
“This is a really annoying situation for Barcelona,” according to Catalan television channel TV-3 Saturday morning.
Atletico, for their part, will have to get by without Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan away to Valladolid.
Sergio Aguero, the same as fellow Argentine starlet Messi, is jet-lagged and exhausted - and will probably be left on the bench.
In addition, John Heitinga has returned from Netherlands duty with a twisted knee, whilst fellow defenders Giourkas Seitaridis, Tomas Ujfalusi and Luis Perea have all returned bruised and weary.
“This is a real setback,” said Atletico coach Javier Aguirre on Friday evening.
“Seitaridis returned late on Thursday and has not trained. Perea flew in at seven in the morning, without sleeping. It looks like he is sleep-walking on the pitch.”
The Mexican coach concluded sadly that “it is the price that you have to pay for being amongst the top clubs.”
Getafe, meanwhile, are struggling to get by without goalkeepers Roberto Abbondanzieri and Oscar Ustari, both seriously injured playing for Argentina.
Lowly Betis, for their part, will be without injury victims Mehmet Aurelio and Mark Gonzalez for a few weeks - because of the dreaded “FIFA Virus”.