FC Barcelona: Youth Players, Transfer Bans & Sanction Appeals

 

In a season riddled with controversy surrounding recent Brazilian acquisition Neymar, tax evasion, misappropriation of funds, and a presidential resignation, FC Barcelona’s recent elimination from Europe’s elite club competition, the UEFA Champions League, would be just another disappointment on the road that is Barca’s 2013/14 season.

Each major controversy this season has involved big numbers: $64 million in side payments beyond Neymar’s reported transfer fee, $18.6 million in tax repayments, almost $22 million in lost prize money with an early UCL elimination, not to mention gate revenue from surely a sold out 99,000+ Camp Nou semi final home leg.

Despite these large numbers, arguably the most influential controversy-related number is by far the smallest: 1.

1 year is the amount of time that FIFA has banned FC Barcelona from registering new players.  The sanctions have been applied due to breaches dealing with the transfers and registration of minors.  FIFA’s press release said this of the sanctions:

With regard to the case in question, FC Barcelona has been found to be in breach of art. 19 of the Regulations in the case of ten minor players and to have committed several other concurrent infringements in the context of other players, including under Annexe 2 of the Regulations.

The Disciplinary Committee regarded the infringements as serious and decided to sanction the club 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 was granted a period of 90 days in which to regularise the situation of all minor players concerned.

Article 19 of FIFA’s “Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players” states that international transfers are only permitted above the age of 18 except in three specific situations:

  • The parents of the player move to the country of the new club for “non-footballing reasons”
  • Player moves from EU or European Economic Area (EEA) and is between 16 and 18
    • Proof of compliance must be provided to ensure minimum obligations regarding high standard sporting education, academic/vocational education & living accommodation arrangements
  • Player lives in another country but within 62.13 miles (100 km) from club headquarters and player lives at home. Requires both associations’ approval

Barcelona’s youth system, La Masia, is and has been world renowned for consistently cultivating world class talent exemplified in Leo Messi, Andres Iniesta, Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol, Sergi Busquets and Victor Valdes, all whom graduated from the esteemed academy and have spent their whole professional career with Barcelona.  With 13 total youth teams including Barcelona B’, essentially the club’s reserve squad, La Masia has hundreds of youth players on their books aged under 18.

The investigation, which dates back to February of last year and whose scope ranges as far back as 2009, involves a series of requests for information of 37 total players.  As expressed by FIFA, Barcelona was found to be in violation of Article 19 regarding 10 different minors in their youth system.

What exactly Barcelona did wrong to violate the regulations is unknown, though the second part of FIFA’s statement listing the violation of Article 19 references Annex 2 of the regulations with regard to concurrent infringements with other players.  Annex 2 reveals part of what exactly Barcelona didn’t do correctly.  Annex 2 involves the procedural steps to initiate the first registration of minors not previously registered with an association as well as the procedural steps for international transfers of minors.

The Annex outlines the procedural steps required for both actions.  This is done because a paragraph of Article 19, the article Barcelona has violated, states that every first registration or international transfer of a non-national minor not previously registered with a club or a minor who falls under the three exceptions listed above is “subject to the approval of the subcommittee appointed by the Players’ Status Committee for that purpose.”  Violations of this provision in paragraph 4 or Article 19 result in sanctions by the Disciplinary Committee based on the Disciplinary Code.

It would make sense that one of two events occurred.  They either did not follow steps of the proper application procedure which could include missing documentation, or Barcelona didn’t receive prior approval at all from the sub committee. The Spanish Federation (RFEF) was also fined and told to “regularise the situation of all minor players concerned”, which appears to back up the claim of compliance violation of application procedures.

La Masia Main Facade - Photo Courtesy of FCBarcelona.com

La Masia Main Facade – Photo Courtesy of FCBarcelona.com

Ironically, Barcelona’s youth system makes the club arguably the best in the world at dealing with a transfer ban.  Despite that fact, the club are strongly looking at ways to still be able to sign players this coming summer.  With Borussia Monchengladbach Goalkeeper Marc Andre Ter Stegen expected to arrive in the summer, Croatian midfielder Alen Halilovic, who will be 18 this summer, as well as the announced retirement of Carles Puyol, Barcelona had been looking to make this summer an active one.

Accordingly the club released an official 14 point statement outlining the grounds for their appeal citing FIFA recognition and global standing of La Masia as a highly respected youth institution, a lack of breach in civil law, as well as the insistence that Article 19 be seriously revised to be more effective, which is corroborated in their history of correspondence with FIFA.

The problem with most of the 14 points is that only 3 points appear to be relevant in the appeal:  #7,#9 and #10 which discuss the lack of civil law breach, the lack of administrative irregularity for any FCB player and the need to revise article 19 respectively.

The problem with #7 is that civil law and FIFA regulations are separate bodies so compliance with civil law doesn’t necessarily equate to compliance with FIFA regulations.  The problem with #9 is that since the RFEF was also fined with irregularities, having federation licenses and administrative regularity doesn’t completely imply compliance.  Finally the problem with #10 is that Article 19 may indeed need revision but the need for future revision doesn’t exempt anyone from violations of the current version as it stands.

I would not be considered an experienced interpreter of labor law or FIFA regulations but my arguments are based on public availability of FIFA regulations, disciplinary code and public statements made by FIFA and FC Barcelona.  Based on that information, with 10 explicit violations of transfers of minors as well as concurrent infringements regarding procedural registration and approval, it seems doubtful that FIFA will accept the appeal especially on the subject of minors.  This would force Barcelona to take the appeal to the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) which would suspend the transfer ban until a decision on the appeal is made. This suspensive effect doesn’t happen with an appeal through FIFA.

If the ban is upheld, as stated, Barcelona are not exactly in the worst of situations, though certain positions in the first team do need addressing this summer, which an upheld transfer ban would make difficult.  Financially the club can also still sell players despite the ban, which means any player sale income can still be expected.  The real impact will be on La Masia and whether these violations are indicative of serious failure in current regulations regarding minors in the sport, and the impact that could have on the club in the future.

 

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Reporting on the business side of the world's game.