There was just the slightest touch of irony that on the same week Real Madrid presented youngster Martin Odegaard to the Press, FIFA announced it had asked the club to explain 51 transfers involving underage players.
During the Press conference to unveil one of Europe’s most sought after starlets, Madrid were asked about the FIFA investigation. From the first moment, Los Merengues came out fighting with Madrid director Emilio Butragueno saying that the club were ‘calm’ and would help FIFA in very way to conclude its investigation.
Real Madrid released a statement where it said it was completely innocent of wrongdoing and that FIFA would see that. But with Barca now facing a transfer ban that will last until 2016, it would be safe to say that some Madridistas are just a little nervous.
Barcelona were given a 14-month ban from signing players in April last year. They appealed that decision and although FIFA rejected the claim, the club brought the case to the Court of Arbitration for Sport and because they did so, they were allowed to sign reinforcements last summer. CAS dismissed their case in December and now Barca face the strong probability of making no new signings this summer.
When Barca were accused of illegally signing underage players and breaching FIFA regulations, they didn’t exactly react in the same way as Madrid. In fact, Barca, instead of denying wrongdoing, insisted more that it was a FIFA plot against them and accused other clubs of doing the same. They more or less admitted that they had broken the rules but believed that because nobody was hurt, they had done nothing wrong.
Club President Josep Maria Bartomeu has said that he will find a way around the ban but whether they can remains to be seen. One thing Barca were right about, though – other clubs were doing it too.
Madrid have explained that of the 51 players they have been asked to give more information on, 10 are Spanish, 23 are foreign but joined Madrid from other Spanish clubs and six of the players were over 18 when they were registered. The club also claim that that two of the players on the list were never registered or belonged to the club and that one player on the list appears twice. The other nine cases, the club did not explain but said they had sent all the right papers to FIFA. So who could these nine players be?
The media have been working non-stop to try and find out the names of the other nine and whether Madrid have done something illegal. AS reported that a deal that piqued FIFA interest was one that saw two teenage Venezuelan players moving to Madrid. Another deal involving a Japanese prodigy Takuhiro Nakai, who is just 9, was reported by a British newspaper, the Daily Mirror, as another one that FIFA want to look into.
Other players that FIFA are rumoured to have asked Los Blancos questions about are the Zidane children. The four boys of the former midfield maestro are all on the books at the club and it seems FIFA want some clarification about it. The cases of Barca and Madrid have seen the Spanish media look into the rest of Spain’s clubs to see if FIFA may investigate more sides and the truth is, yes.
The club with the highest amount of foreign youth players in its ranks is Atletico Madrid. Los Rojiblancos have 43 players under the age of 21, with three aged 10 – from Brazil, Ethiopia and Guinea Bissau.
Last week Atletico signed a deal which saw a Chinese investor buy 20% of the club. The deal would see Chinese children come and train at the club and so questions were asked about the legality of bringing the underage players to Spain but since the players would not be officially registered at the club, there should be no problems.
In fact, a deal was signed in 2010 that has seen 20 children from China go to Villarreal, Valencia and Atletico each year and because it is classed as an educational and sporting project, it is legal and not under FIFA investigation.
Elche have 30 foreign players in their cantera, with only nime being over the legal age. What will raise eyebrows is that the majority of their players are under the age of 12.
Villarreal have 27 foreign kids with six coming from Romania. It was reported that the reason for so many Romanian players in the cantera is because of the ceramic factory that is owned by the club’s owner, which has a high Romanian workforce. With many at the turn of the century moving from abroad to Spain in search of work, this is a familiar situation for many clubs.
The only club not to have any underage players that were born outside Spain is Eibar. La Liga’s newest side doesn’t even have a B team and kids go from the youth set up straight to the first team.
The LFP have stood beside Barca and there is nothing to suggest they will not do so with Madrid. Barca’s President has even come out in support of Madrid not receiving a ban and said he would prefer that FIFA changed its rules. Right now that seems a distant dream and that football’s governing body will continue to dig into La Liga’s clubs dealings in signing underage players.
Some clubs may try to clean house or hope that they slip under the radar. Others may decide to take FIFA head on. One article in the media this week gave evidence that Spain is not the only country to be guilty of signing underage players in breach of FIFA regulations. The fact that it appears to be the only country being investigated has fuelled the fire of those that believe Barca may have a point when they claim that there is a FIFA conspiracy.