Chelsea Football Club have been banned from the transfer market for two windows after Fifa found them guilty of a serious and systemic breach of the rules regarding their dealings with foreign players under the age of 18. The club swiftly said they would appeal.
The governing body announced the sanction on Friday at the end of a lengthy investigation into the club and how they have registered players at their academy over a number of years.
The Guardian revealed last month that Fifa had looked into more than 100 player cases at Chelsea and it emerged on Friday they had charged them with 92 breaches of article 19 alone – the most serious infringement relating to the registration of minors. Chelsea were found guilty in 29 of those cases.
The club were also charged with other rules breaches, including of article 18 bis, which concerns third party influence. Fifa said that Chelsea were guilty “in connection with two agreements it concluded concerning minors and which allowed it to influence other clubs in transfer-related matters.”
Chelsea have been fined 600,000 Swiss francs (£460,000) and given 90 days to “regularise the situation of the minor players concerned”, which could involve them being forced to move on anyone brought to the club in contravention of the regulations.
“Chelsea FC categorically refutes the findings of the Fifa disciplinary committee and will therefore be appealing the decision,” the club said. They added: “Initially, Chelsea FC was charged under Articles 19.1 and 19.3 in relation to 92 players. We welcome the fact that Fifa has accepted that there was no breach in relation to 63 of these players, but the club is extremely disappointed that Fifa has not accepted the club’s submissions in relation to the remaining 29 players. Chelsea FC acted in accordance with the relevant regulations.”
Chelsea ultimately have the right to appeal to the court of arbitration for sport (Cas). It is possible they could delay their punishment until after this summer’s window via appeals, which can be time-consuming, meaning they would be free to make signings between the beginning of June and the end of August.
Fifa has also sanctioned the Football Association for breaching the rules in connection with minors, because player registrations are processed at FA level, imposing a fine of 510,000 Swiss francs (£391,000). Fifa said in its statement that it was allowing the FA “a period of six months to address the situation concerning the international transfer and first registration of minors in football”.
That is understood to centre around procedural issues over when a trialist is obliged to be registered by the local governing body. The FA, which believes Fifa’s regulations are nuanced, said it intended to appeal, had co-operated fully and had “raised some concerns with Fifa regarding its disciplinary processes”.
The transfer ban is a body blow for Chelsea at a time when the manager, Maurizio Sarri, is clinging to his job, after a dismal sequence of results and having lost the confidence of the Stamford Bridge crowd, and the squad is in need of a make-over with doubts concerning the future of a host of players.
Eden Hazard, the club’s star, has suggested that he fancies a summer move to Real Madrid and he, along with Willian, Pedro and Callum Hudson-Odoi, is out of contract at the end of next season. David Luiz’s and Olivier Giroud’s deals expire this summer, although there is an option to extend the latter’s contract by 12 months. Gary Cahill is in the final few months of his contract too.
Fifa’s basic rule is that clubs cannot bring in players under 18 from other countries, unless their parents have emigrated for reasons not connected to football or both the player and club are based within 50km of a national border. Under article 19, the only other exception is for transfers within either the European Union or European Economic Area where the player is aged between 16 and 18.
Chelsea contended that the majority of the 100-plus player cases involved short-term trialists at their academy, who did not go on to sign for them. They argued there is no law against trialing under-18 international players; that it is common practice across Europe and, as such, they believed these cases ought not to have been included in the final judgment. In others that led to them making signings, the club maintained they fully complied with Fifa’s rules.
Fifa came to the conclusion that Chelsea had gravely overstepped the mark. The governing body has in the past brought successful prosecutions against Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid for infringements related to the signing of minors and its pursuit of these cases springs from a determination to help protect children from potential exploitation and trafficking.
Each of the Spanish clubs was given a two-window ban, although Real served only one after a successful appeal to Cas. Once Fifa’s disciplinary committee decided that Chelsea were guilty, it was no surprise that it chose to ban them for two windows.
Fifa has established a principle which says a systemic breach of the rules should entail a transfer embargo, irrespective of the number of minors involved. In other words, if it can see a pattern of wrongdoing, of repeat behaviour, it will look to impose a ban. Furthermore, it is understood that Fifa worries a one-window suspension does not create harmful consequences, and can be worked around with sufficient planning.
Chelsea completed the £58m signing of Christian Pulisic from Borussia Dortmund last month – he will join in the summer – and they took Gonzalo Higuaín on loan from Juventus until the end of the season, with options to extend the loan or sign him permanently. The club denied that the moves were in reaction to the threat of a transfer ban.