Barcelona and Madrid among teams hit by 'FIFA virus' as players get injured on international duty

The latest international break is proving costly for European clubs like Spanish powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid

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MADRID (AP) — The latest international break is proving costly for several European clubs, including Spanish powerhouses Barcelona and Real Madrid.

Both teams will be depleted by the injury absences of important players affected by the “FIFA virus” while on duty with their national teams.

Not long after Madrid confirmed injuries to Brazil forward Vinícius Júnior and France midfielder Eduardo Camavinga, Barcelona saw midfielder Gavi arrive from his stint with Spain in European Championship qualifying on crutches because of a serious injury that will likely see him miss the rest of the season.

Gavi, who was in tears when he limped off the field in the 26th minute of Spain's 3-1 win over Georgia on Sunday, will need surgery in the coming days to repair a complete tear of the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

Premier League champion Manchester City apparently avoided a scare — Erling Haaland's ankle injury sustained in a friendly between Norway and the Faeroe Islands on Thursday doesn't seem to be too serious.

Paris Saint-Germain wasn't so lucky with Warren Zaïre-Emery, a 17-year-old midfielder who hurt his right ankle when he became France's youngest scorer on his international debut in a record 14-0 rout of Gibraltar in European qualifying on Saturday.

Manchester United also may be in trouble after goalkeeper André Onana couldn't finish Cameroon's World Cup qualifier on Friday, while Inter Milan saw defender Alessandro Bastoni pick up an injury while on duty with Italy.

Media in Spain and other countries refer to injuries sustained on international duty as the “FIFA virus.” And the injury to Gavi is another example.

“A very high price,” read a front-page headline by the Marca sports daily on Monday, along with a photo of Spain forward Ferran Torres holding Gavi’s jersey after he scored one of the team’s goals in the second half.

Some in Spanish media were quick to blame Spain coach Luis de la Fuente for not taking Gavi out of the game moments earlier when he received a knock to the same knee. The match meant little for Spain because it had already secured its spot at Euro 2024. Local reports said Barcelona was considering making a formal complaint to the Spanish soccer federation.

De la Fuente said the Gavi injury was one of the “toughest” moments of his coaching career but noted that it had nothing to do with the knock he received earlier.

“This can happen at any time. It was an accident,” De la Fuente said. “It's a very difficult moment. It's difficult for him, his club, his teammates, for me and for the federation. We are devastated."

De la Fuente rested some of the other regular starters who had played in the team’s 3-1 win at Cyprus on Thursday, but the 19-year-old Gavi started again after playing the entire match last week.

Clubs receive financial compensation when their players get injured with their national team and miss more than 28 days, but Gavi’s absence will be felt by Barcelona because he was one of the key players in coach Xavi Hernandez's squad that this season is on track to play in the knockout rounds of the Champions League after two consecutive eliminations in the group stage.

Madrid, already in the next round of the Champions League and fighting for the Spanish league lead, will be without Vinícius for about two months because of a muscle tear the forward sustained in Brazil’s 2-1 loss at Colombia in World Cup qualifying on Friday. The 23-year-old Vinícius has scored six goals for Madrid this season, including three in the team’s last two matches.

Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti will also be without Camavinga for some time. The 21-year-old midfielder tore a ligament in his right knee while practicing with the French national team. Camavinga started all four of Madrid’s Champions League games and appeared in all 13 of its Spanish league matches this season.

Another Spanish club affected was Real Sociedad, which saw midfielder Mikel Oyarzabal — one of the key players for the sixth-place club in the Spanish league — leave Spain's match against Cyprus with a muscle injury.

In Italy, forward Victor Osimhen hasn’t played for Napoli since the last international break after he was injured with Nigeria, and it wasn't the first time he missed time with his club because of problems sustained with this national team.

A recent study by the Howden insurance group showed that the length of absence because of injuries to players were longer after last year's World Cup in Qatar, the first played in the European winter and in the middle of the season.

FIFA approved its insurance program for clubs when Bayern Munich official Karl-Heinz Rummenigge complained after Arjen Robben got injured with the Netherlands at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa. FIFA has allocated $150 million for the 2023-26 men’s World Cup period for its Club Protection Program, and it can pay a maximum of 7.5 million euros ($8.2 million) for one player’s injury according to a daily rate of 20,548 euros ($22,450) “payable for a maximum of 365 days.”

The current international break, the last of the year, concludes with games around the world on Monday and Tuesday.

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AP Sports Writer Graham Dunbar in Geneva contributed to this report.

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AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/Soccer

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