FIFA has imposed a one year transfer embargo on FC Barcelona for a breach of rules regarding the transfer of minors to the club. The breaches happened between 2009 and 2013 and involves as many as ten players in that period. They have also been fined 450,000 Swiss Francs while the Spanish FA have been fined 500,000 Swiss Francs for allowing the registration of the players.
It is not the first time this season that Barcelona have been in trouble with the transfer authourities following the irregularities that came to light following Neymar’s move from Santos to Barcelona.
However the latest punishment is by far the most severe the club has suffered. It also casts significant doubt on deals already in place for Borussia Monchengladbach keeper Marc-Andre ter Stergen and Croatian 17-year-old Alen Halilovic, who turns 18 in June. They also have deals in place regarding a trio of players from South Korea and also from Africa.
FIFA’s rules regarding the transfer of minors states that the transfer may only occur when one of these three stipulations applies; the player’s parents have moved country for their own, non-related reasons; the move takes place within the European Union if a player is aged between 16 and 18; or the player’s home is less than 50 kilometres from the national border being crossed. It is believed that Barcelona has been in breach of all three stipulations.
Barcelona may take hope from a similar case involving Chelsea in 2009. At the time Chelsea were found guilty of a breach of transfer regulations involving the transfer of Gael Kakuta from Lens. They were found guilty of inducing Kakuta to break his contract with Lens and had a transfer embargo placed on them for two transfer windows (January 2010 and July/August 2010).
However on appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Lausanne, the embargo was lifted when the court ruled Kakuta’s contract with Lens was invalid. Barcelona will hope for a similar outcome if they decide to appeal the decision. The club have been given 90 days to decide if they want to press ahead with the appeal.
However if unsuccessful, it gives Tata Martino’s men more than a few headaches.
The recent cruciate injury to first choice keeper Victor Valdés has given Martino and his men a problem between now and the end of the season. However the embargo has far longer reaching consequences.
Valdés’ contract expires in the summer and the ‘keeper has confirmed that he will not seek to renew his contract. Barcelona has been heavily linked with Liverpool’s Pepe Reina who is currently on loan at Napoli. Reina is not expected to be at Liverpool next season with the Nou Camp his rumoured destination; however the embargo will put an end to Reina’s hopes of a move to his boyhood club.
This leaves Barcelona with only two goalkeepers in their first squad. These being 38 year old José Manuel Pinto who has been deputising in Valdés’ absence and 25 year old Oier Olazábal who has only one first team appearance to his name. Pinto has never been held in the highest regard and has never been seen as first choice at Barcelona and he has only made 28 appearances since 2008. Olazábal made 122 appearances for Barcelona B before stepping up to the first team this year, however he has never been seen as more than a squad player by the Catalan giants.
They have three more ‘keepers on their books at Barcelona B, Jordí Masip (25), Adrian Ortóla (21) and Miguel Bañuz (20) however they will not fill Barcelona fans full of confidence. Martino will have to rely on these inexperienced ‘keepers until at least summer 2015 and judging Pinto’s performances thus far, worrying times may lie ahead.
Barcelona were dealt another blow at the beginning of March with the news that club captain Carles Puyol will retire at the end of the season due to injury problems despite having two years to run on his current contract. His departure meant that Barcelona would undoubtedly be in the market for a centre half in the summer transfer window.
This will leave Barcelona with only three recognised centre halves in their squad, these being Gerard Piqué, 23 year old Marc Bartra and Argentine Javier Mascherano, who himself harbours ambitions of playing in the middle of the field. Martino may be forced to use former Arsenal man Alex Song in the heart of his defence.
If unsuccessful in their expected appeal, Barcelona will be left with major defensive problems. Their squad will only be left with only seven recognised defenders. Barcelona as ever will be expected to challenge in every competition and this will undoubtedly put more pressure on the defence as season fatigue and injuries become a problem, with so few replacements in place to cover these potential problems.
Undoubtedly Barcelona boasts one of the most gifted midfields in world football. Xavi and Andrés Iniesta have been labelled the greatest of their generation, however they are an aging combination which Tata Martino would have been hoping to use more sparingly over the next season in order to maximise the length of their careers.
Xavi has recently confirmed he will stay with the Catalan giants until 2016, though at 34 his body will not be expected to feature in up to 60 games a season as has become the norm at Barcelona. Iniesta (29) has had hamstring problems in the last few seasons and Martino will now have to hope these injuries remain to a minimum.
Sergio Busquets has also become a mainstay of the starting XI and at 25 he is approaching the prime of his career; however an injury to him would be viewed as a monumental blow by Barcelona. Cesc Fàbregas will be expected to play more of a role in the coming season as Xavi will have to be used more sparingly. As a result Fàbregas will probably play less in his more advanced role.
Barca has eight recognised midfielders in their squad and undoubtedly have more talent coming through in their academy. However with the embargo more pressure will come on their frontline players to stay injury free. Martino was probably hoping to sign a central midfielder in the summer but his plans now appear to be scuppered.
Although Barcelona will have a quiet summer 2014 in the transfer window, season 2014/2015 will be a fascinating time as Barcelona continue to fight Real Madrid and co for Spanish and European superiority despite having a thinning, aging squad with no replacements to come available until at least summer 2015.
What do you think of the transfer embargo placed on Barcelona? Will they be able to compete on all fronts next season? Comment and let us know your thoughts.