Soccer-Infantino meets Premier League players over calendar changes

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - African Super Cup - Final - Al Ahly SC v Raja Casablanca - Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan, Qatar - December 22, 2021 FIFA president Gianni Infantino during the trophy ceremony REUTERS/Ibraheem Al Omari

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - FIFA president Gianni Infantino held talks with Premier League players, including Manchester United's Paul Pogba, on Thursday over changes to the international match calendar and player workload.

Infantino and FIFA's Chief of Global Football Development, former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger, met with members of the players union, the Professional Footballers Association (PFA) which represents players at all levels in the English game.

The meeting came after a number of players wrote a letter to Infantino asking to discuss their workload.

Among those present were French World Cup winner Pogba, Manchester United's Spanish midfielder Juan Mata and England women's internationals Lucy Bronze and Steph Houghton, who play for Manchester City.

"Players are crucial when it comes to the game, when speaking about the calendar, when we speak about the load, the number of days, the kind of competitions that we want to organise," Infantino told a small group of reporters.

"Of course, we need to care about the players. We want to protect the players. And in order to know really what their concerns are, we need to talk to them directly," he said.

FIFA is conducting a review of the international match calendar which determines the windows for national team games and tournament qualifiers.

The global governing body is also proposing switching to a biennial World Cup rather than the current format of holding the showpiece event every four years -- a plan which has met with strong opposition in European football.

Infantino said that issue had come up in discussions but was not the main focus of the talks.

"It was less about the biennial World Cup and much more about the international match calendar, how to (fit) in international team games, how to make sure that the games that are played for the club and national team level are really meaningful and the players are put in the best conditions to play the best possible tournament," he said.

"Of course, the biannual World Cup was mentioned as well. There are different views, but we didn't seek any sort of opinion in terms of are you in favour, are you against. It's more about the timings, the periods, the workload, how to play, when to play," he said.

PFA chief executive Maheta Molango welcomed the talks.

"I know the players really valued what was a constructive, open and positive discussion, and we thank (FIFA) for that," he said.

"If those who play the game are to have meaningful input into decisions about its future, then this kind of dialogue is absolutely critical."

(Reporting by Simon Evans, Editing by Ed Osmond)

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