A not so minor incident – Understanding FC Barcelona’s transfer ban

If a 1-1 draw with Athletico Madrid in last night’s Champions League Quarter Final clash wasn’t a big enough frustration for all those involved with FC Barcelona then the news that rumbled through the Catalan giant’s home this morning was surely enough to cap off a miserable first half of the week. FIFA announced this morning that the current La Liga champions would be banned from transfers for the next two transfer windows due to breaching rules relating to the transfer of minors[1]. The ban includes not only the buying of players but also the sale of FC Barcelona players to other clubs. It won’t be until the summer of 2015 until the ban is lifted and the club can start buying and selling players again. A transfer ban for this length of time is a fairly substantial punishment. It’s going to have some fairly far-reaching effects on the club. Most notably is the departure of club captain Carlos Puyol and goalkeeper Victor Valdes this coming summer.


Unfortunately the statement released by FIFA does not give exact details on the breaches committed by the club. It states only that a breach of article 19 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players occurred in relation to 10 different players that FC Barcelona brought to the club. FIFA also confirmed that the identity of the 10 players involved would be kept private but confirmed that the transfers occurred during a 4 year period between 2009 and 2013.

Article 19 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players is an important regulation since it governs the transfer of minors (those under the age of 18) from international countries[2]. Therefore in this context it does not govern the transfer of Spanish minors much like the rules would not govern the transfer of a French minor to a French club. The minor must come from a foreign country for these regulations to come into play. In short, the international transfers of minors are not allowed under this article. It does not matter whether they are registered with a club currently or not at the time either[3].


Like any great regulation or piece of legislation, there are exceptions and ways in which clubs can sign players from abroad who are under 18. The exceptions allowed are strict and clubs must submit an application to a sub-committee (appointed by the Players’ Status Committee) for approval[4]. The first exception is a fairly simple albeit strange rule in practice. If the players’ parents move to the country where the club is based for non-footballing reasons then that transfer is allowed[5]. The club must prove that the non-footballing reasons were legitimate and not simply a front to push the transfer through.

The second exception is in regard to minors from within the EU (or from countries which are part of the European Economic Area). A transfer is permitted for a minor between the ages of 16 and 18[6] so long as the club purchasing the player can fulfil certain criteria. The criteria lays out that the club must provide the player with an adequate football education and/or training of the highest standard[7], guarantee that the player will receive either academic or vocational training outside of football[8], arrange the best possible hospitality for the new player to ensure he is looked after[9] and finally the club must provide proof of the above criteria[10]. The required criterion is stringent and many clubs will likely not have the resources to fulfil them all therefore susceptible to a breach of article 19. In the context of FC Barcelona it seems highly unlikely that the club fell short of any of these obligations but it does prove how seriously FIFA take the safeguarding of minors in football. The requirement that clubs must provide a non-footballing education is a very important one and demonstrates FIFA’s desire for players entering the fiercely competitive world of professional football at the top level to have some form of contingency plan in place in case things do not work out. It’s a refreshing set of ideals that has the best interests of the child at the core.

The final exception is one which is quite technical. The regulations state that if a player lives 50km from a national border and the new club in the neighbouring country is also 50km from the national border then the transfer may be permitted. Crucially, there can’t be a distance of more than 100km between the player’s home and the club’s headquarters. Furthermore the player must continue to live at home and the two football associations represented must give approval of the transfer.


Fundamentally the regulations are there to protect children. There is every danger that the power and money littered throughout football could and does result in the abuse, exploitation and trafficking of children. FIFPro, the World Players’ Union, has highlighted just how much of an important issue the protection of minors is. Clubs like FC Barcelona have both the power and money to be an attractive lure to young people who may not have fully considered the possible consequences of making a move from their homeland. It’s not simply just a case of a player suffering from homesickness; it is much more likely that these children go out to such clubs on the back of half-hearted promises that they could well be the next Lionel Messi when there is of course no guarantee. That may be obvious to many but to a child it could well sound like a promise of riches and fame.

Many organisations, like FIFPro, have called for stricter regulations and have highlighted the role of third parties who play a suspicious role in the transfers of minors[11]. This is particularly evident in African and South American countries where poverty is rife and third parties can take advantage of the child’s poor living conditions. But arguably more needs to be done to tackle the problem in these vulnerable countries



[1] Barcelona handed one-year transfer ban for breaking rules over international transfer of under-18s – The Telegraph

[2] Art. 19, Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players

[3] Art. 19(3), Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players

[4] Art. 19(4), Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players

[5] Art. 19(2)(a), Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players

[6] Art. 19(2)(b), Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players

[7] Art. 19(2)(b)(i), Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players

[8] Art. 19(2)(b)(ii), Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players

[9] Art. 19(2)(b)(iii), Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players

[10] Art. 19(2)(b)(iv), Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players

[11] Protection of minors high on FIFPro agenda – FIFPro



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