In December the ground shook under FC Barcelona and the world’s most well-known talent factory, La Masia. Now is an earthquake underway in Spanish football. FIFA is now investigating Real Madrid, Atletico de Madrid, Valencia CF and Rayo Vallecano for buying minors despite FIFA’s ‘Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players’ clearly stating that children under the age of 18 cannot change clubs across continents.
“FIFA is currently gathering all the relevant information and documentation in order to be in a position to properly assess the matter. No formal disciplinary proceedings have been opened at this stage. No further information can be provided for the time-being,” says a spokesperson in FIFA who prefer to be anonymous to Sport Executive.
In Real Madrid director of institutional relations, Emilio Butragueno, confirms that FIFA has asked for information about 51 under-age footballers – signed by the club in the past five years. According to Butragueno the club is ‘absolutely calm’ about its behavior.
“We will continue to work with FIFA in every aspect they ask of us. We are absolutely relaxed about the procedure involving Real Madrid,” says Butragueno.
‘Los Blancos’ has also released an official statement denying any wrongdoing – although the club for example bought the Japanese player Takuhiro Nakai from Tokyo in 2013. He is now playing for Real Madrid’s U-12 team.
Atletico de Madrid, Valencia CF and Rayo Vallecano has so far no comments to the cases.
Going on for years
The trade of minors has been going on for years in European football and has grown into a business of significant size – with mainly southern European clubs and anonymous capital funds in tax havens involved. The enormous profits have over the years led to a hunt for continuously younger football talents in order to achieve sporting success in an increasingly sharp competition – and to minimize costs – and, yes, to score enormous profit.
Therefore FIFA and the Court of Arbitration for Sport, CAS, in December found FC Barcelona to be in breach of Article 19 of ‘FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players’ – and therefore FIFA now is investigating Real Madrid, Atletico de Madrid, Valencia CF and Rayo Vallecano for buying minors.
The cases has also led FIFA to lower the age limit required for international transfer certificates from 12 to 10 years, taking effect on 1. March 2015, in a move to close the loopholes in the net designed to restrain top football’s trafficking of under-age players.
”In order to strengthen the protection of minors and due to the increased number of international transfers of players younger than 12, the Executive Committee has approved a reduction in the age limit for which an international transfer certificate (ITC) is required to the age of 10,” says a spokesperson in FIFA.
‘Why 10 years? Why not 8, 6, 4, 2 or 0 years’?
“The Executive Committee deemed it appropriate to stick to the age of 10 since they believed that, at this stage, the international transfer of players younger than 10 should not be an issue. But if a trend to international transfers of players even younger than 10 would be detected, this limit could be reconsidered. Therefore FIFA will keep on monitoring closely the issue in order to take the relevant measures, if need be,” says the spokesperson.
But is it enough?
“Principally, it is a positive initiative from FIFA. But it does not solve any problems. Clubs and capital funds will just look for even younger talent. In the clubs – and in the capital funds – there are people who believe that they can spot a talent, no matter the age,” says Mads Øland, board member in the international players’ union, FIFPro.
“And then there is the enforcement of the rules. In theory, there is nothing wrong with FIFA’s ethical rules, but how is it really? It is the same with the ITC (International Transfer Certificate, ed.) and the TMS (Transfer Monitoring System, ed.), there has to be a willingness to apply them,” Øland states.
”That is why a 10-years-of-age limit is no solution. The problem is that football players have been reduced to a commodity – and not a person. This aspect of football is difficult to explain to parents, that their child is an item on a list – and not a person. And this goes all the way down to the amateur divisions,” Øland says.
Unrest in Spain
But the explanation of the rules and the enforcement of them is hard to understand in Spain. And maybe in Portugal, Italy, Greece and any other southern European country when FIFA turns to them?
In Barcelona president Josep Maria Bartomeu calls for a change in the rules:
“It’s a problem for FIFA who need to change this article (Article 19 of ‘FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players’, Ed.). I want that FIFA re-configure their laws and that Blatter gives the matter some reflection,” he says to Catalan radio RAC 1.
“Why we got singled out first and not others is a question for FIFA. It all came about an anonymous complaint surrounding the player, Lee. We don’t know who made this official complaint, they don’t want to supply this information. But it’s clear that there are other clubs involved,” says Josep Maria Bartomeu and states:
“I don’t want to see other clubs sanctioned.”
FC Barcelona is sanctioned with a transfer ban at both national and international level for two complete and consecutive transfer periods, together with a fine of CHF 450.000. Additionally, the club has been given a period of 90 days in which to regularize the situation of all minor players concerned. Now Real Madrid, Atletico de Madrid, Valencia CF and Rayo Vallecano can look forward to a similar punishment.
Sport Executive has in vain asked for investigations in a lot of other clubs involved in trading minors – clubs well-known to Sport Executive.
Art. 19 Protections of Minors
1. International transfers of players are only permitted if the player is over the age of 18.
2. The following three exceptions to this rule apply:
a) The player’s parents move to the country in which the new club is located for reasons not linked to football.
b) The transfer takes place within the territory of the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) and the player is aged between 16 and 18. In this case, the new club must fulfil the following minimum obligations:
i. It shall provide the player with an adequate football education and/or training in line with the highest national standards.
ii. It shall guarantee the player an academic and/or school and/or vocational education and/or training, in addition to his football education and/or training, which will allow the player to pursue a career other than football should he cease playing professional football.
iii. It shall make all necessary arrangements to ensure that the player is looked after in the best possible way (optimum living standards with a host family or in club accommodation, appointment of a mentor at the club, etc.).
iv. It shall, on registration of such a player, provide the relevant association with proof that it is complying with the aforementioned obligations.
c) The player lives no further than 50km from a national border and the club with which the player wishes to be registered in the neighbouring association is also within 50km of that border. The maximum distance between the player’s domicile and the club’s headquarters shall be 100km. In such cases, the player must continue to live at home and the two associations concerned must give their explicit consent.