The following is a report from French outlet Mediapart, who have published a number of pieces relating to the allegedly crooked practices of overcoming FIFA regulations on the signing of minors to some of Europe’s largest footballing academies.
Get French Football News takes no responsibility for the authenticity of the content.
Mediapart allege that thousands of young teen footballers are transferred every year, showing utter disregard for the regulations in place, claiming that clubs lie and fight to snatch children in this regard who are sometimes under the age of 12. Whilst FIFA often threatens sanctions, the extent to which they follow through is rare.
In 2011, Manchester City wanted to purchase José Ángel Pozo, according to the player. Football Leaks documents show that an individual at City had indicated: “We’ve seen hundreds of players his age and in his position he is by far the best.”
But Real Madrid, whose youth academy the player the belonged to, stood firm. In January 2012, both clubs fought over the player, two months before his 16th birthday, but in the end Los Blancos sold him to City for €1.5m plus eventual potential bonuses of €3m. City did not do a good deal – in 2015, the player was sold to Almería for €500k.
However, when it works, all the meddling is forgotten about. Like with Jadon Sancho, who was sold by Manchester City to Dortmund for €7m at the age of 17, who they had bought in 2014 from Watford for £150k plus bonuses.
There is a growing trend of signing minors in world football – in 2017, FIFA confirmed 3,300 applications for the registration of players under the age of 18 in first teams, double as many as in 2011. Half of these were international transfers. An internal UEFA document indicates that in March 2018, Atletico Madrid between 2013 and 2017 led the way in terms of signing minors, having had 52 transfers approved in this regard, roughly ten per season, ahead of Manchester City (28), Manchester United (27), Arsenal and Juventus (19).
The Court of Arbitration for Sport recently ruled that clubs engage in this practice to make money. On the 1st June 2017, they convicted Atletico Madrid for irregular transfer activity in this regarding after demonstrating that “the intentions of the club… denoted a financial and sporting interest.” In FIFA’s view, Atletico has “repeatedly placed its own interests before those of minors.”
FIFA went on to accuse Atletico of 65 violations relating to the prohibition of transferring minors, all under the ages of 16. 27 of them were 12-years-old, one was 6-years-old, most came from developing countries. FIFA claim that Atletico Madrid committed fraud, depriving the clubs from which they took these youngsters from of financial compensation thus “enlarging the financial and sporting gulf”. Mediapart claim that Atletico Madrid tried to dissolve their youth academy, but that FIFA were not fooled.
For the abovementioned infringements, FIFA imposed a ban on all transfer activity on Atletico Madrid in April 2016 for two transfer windows, with an accompanying €480k fine. Barcelona were also fined 450k Swiss francs in 2014 for irregularities involving the transfer of 31 minors between 2005 and 2012.
In 2016, Real Madrid were sentenced, relating to irregularities involving 183 minors between 2007 and 2014, incurring a 360k Swiss francs fine and a transfer ban for two windows, which was later reduced to one by the Court of Arbitration for Sport and the fine down to 240k Swiss francs.
Atletico Madrid’s basis for complaint against this action was that other clubs were not being punished with the same standard, to which the Court of Arbitration for Sport responded that this “does not mean that there is no investigation of others”.
Kimberly Morris, the Director of Compliance for FIFA TMS Global Transfers, has noted that there are countries “where offences are systematic” (notably in England and Belgium).
Mediapart claim that over the last 2 years since the last major Football Leaks dump, the situation relating to the recruitment of minors has gotten worse, with many rules being flouted and more than half of cases concerning minors and Third Party Ownership (TPO) being ignored by the Disciplinary Committee of FIFA – either because it was not aware of them, or because nobody had been appointed to investigate them.
Kimberly Morris, on the 1st February 2018, ordered that files concerning minors and TPO “be treated with a priority status”. Around 100 cases have been submitted but not investigated, according to Mediapart.
Morris is particularly concerned with Chelsea, FC Porto and German clubs, as well as reportedly saying to colleagues: “You will tell me who deals with the cases of Belgian minors and where we are no the records of Italian minors.”
When FIFA were asked for a comment on this story by the European Investigative Collaboration, FIFA refused to do so, recognising that they had “recently faced a significant increase” in the number and complexity of cases. The disciplinary department appears to be making progress, taking on 150 new cases in 2017 and 193 in 2016, compared to 81 in 2015 and 75 in 2016.
Aware of these issues, FIFA is discussing, according to Mediapart, measures to restrict the transfer of minors to a list of “accredited” clubs and that its “Football Players Commission” is working on the issue.
Against Chelsea, the relevant FIFA investigatory body had reportedly proposed a 500,000 Swiss francs fine and a four transfer window-long recruiting ban for offences relating to the recruitment of minors involving 19 players, including 14 minors who were illegally transferred.
This case was sent to a higher FIFA body on May 2016, but as of January 2018, it has still not be processed. Mediapart does not know where the investigation currently lies.
Lyon attacker Bertrand Traoré, who was sold by Chelsea in the summer of 2017 for €10m, is a key example in the case against the London club, as he was still underage when Chelsea signed him from the Association Jeunes Espoirs of Bobo-Dioulasso (AJEB) in Burkina Faso for £400k. Sanctions have been recommended, because, although officially speaking the transfer was registered in 2014, when the player had turned 18, an investigation by the Guardian indicated that he had been signed before turning into an adult, in September 2013.
Chelsea supposedly responded to FIFA’s questions by indicating that he never participated in an official match and only spent time “on trial”. On the basis of this information, FIFA closed the case in November 2013, but reopened it in October 2015 thanks to investigations by the media.
Traoré attended Whitgift, a private school in London, between the ages of 16 and 18, as the school boasts on its website, from 2011 to 2013. The Arsenal website reports that he participated in an U18s match against the London club when he was only 16. FIFA have realised that Chelsea hid this information in bad faith, and the London club was forced to admit to having acquired an option on the player from his mother in April 2011, worth €177k, plus €15k to go to his Burkinabe club AJEB, chaired by… Traoré’s mother.
According to the investigation, Traoré actually played 25 games for Chelsea at U16, U18 and senior level before being registered with the English FA. Having said that, Chelsea sent an email in 2011 to the FA on the option that they had acquired from the player’s mother to verify “the potential of a TPO” situation, but this contract itself did get registered by the FA.
In FIFA’s eyes, the London club “paid for the player to go to an English school whilst he was underage and incited him to be transferred to England and to be paid for it,” whilst all the while being in Britain on a student visa. The club is also alleged to have “helped and facilitated the move for his mother and brother” – the mother acted as an intermediary for both Chelsea and the player.
FIFA have therefore recognised that Chelsea should be charged with an “illegal international transfer of a minor”, with Traoré being recruited “for money without the approval of the FIFA subcommittee.” Mediapart claim that further aggravating this case is the fact that the option that Chelsea negotiated with the Bobo-Dioulasso club constitutes a case of third-party influence, because Chelsea prevented the AJEB from transferring Traoré to another club under the penalty of having to repay the money that they initially received from the English club.
Another irregularity in this case was supposedly that the option for Traoré ran for over 4.5 years, whilst a minor is not able to sign for more than 3 years. Finally, the English club was viewed to have “deliberately deceived the FIFA TMS system” that records and validates transfers, per reporting.
The initial FIFA investigatory team recommended a 59k Swiss francs fine against Chelsea and a transfer ban for one window based on the Traoré case alone, as well as a 24k Swiss francs fine against the Burkina Faso academy in question and a 61k Swiss francs fine against the English FA. Tuppence, when you compare that to the €10m fee that Chelsea have since received for the player.
It is unclear whether or not the sanctions, none of which are aimed at the player, have been acted on and implemented by higher authorities within FIFA. One thing that is clear is that Chelsea certainly haven’t been hit with a recruitment ban. Chelsea were contacted for a comment, but largely refused, stating: “We do not comment on speculation about confidential contracts or player issues.”