By Tony Attwood
Just a week ago – on 21 January – I wrote a little piece about the rules surrounding the transfer of children to football clubs. But what are the rules?
Like most of the articles on Untold that look at the rules and regulations it didn’t get a huge readership, but I wanted to publish it because there are increasing reports from Spain that they do seem to feel that they are being unfairly singled out when it comes to transfer bans because of the transfer of children.
Barcelona were banned from all transfers for a year, you may recall, and protested their innocence all the way to, and after the final appeal with the Court of Arbitration in Sport that we covered (in more depth than most of the media I am proud to say) on Untold.
Since Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid have joined Barcelona in the dock (they have been found guilty and are now in the appeals process) and also face a one year ban, both clubs have been making noises that they will be revealing to Fifa exactly what English club/s do, and demanding that they are investigated in the same way. Real general manager, José Ángel Sánchez, has repeatedly said that Fifa has initiated disciplinary proceedings against clubs in the Premier League over possible breaches of transfer regulations.
One rumour that has gone around has been that it is Arsenal who they are looking at – but there has also been a strong suspicion that this is just sour grapes because English law is different from Spanish law in regard to 16 and 17 year olds.
The other rumour has been that it is Chelsea who are going to get tied up in this – not least because they have form in this. Chelsea were suspended from signing any new players until 2011 after signing Lens’ Gael Kakuta. The matter was later settled and the ban was never imposed.
The new problem relates to Bertrand Traoré, the Burkina Faso international who was signed to professional terms by Chelsea on 1 January 2014, when he was 18. But Chelsea had an “option agreement” and on this basis they played him in some trial games.
Now this is where it gets murky because some sources are saying that he played in an under-18s Premier Academy League game against Arsenal on 23 October 2011, when he was 16. That game was recorded by Chelsea as a “non-competitive” fixture. And indeed Getty Images, the photographic agency have their pictures from this game marked as a “friendly”.
There was however a league match a couple of weeks before this at Chelsea’s ground where Arsenal under 18s beat Chelsea. But Traore was not playing in that game – I think some of the media in their usual sloppy way are getting the two games confused.
There is a video of the league match on line and the Chelsea team was Mitchell Beeney; Alistair Gordon, Rohan Ince, Daniel Pappoe (c) (Sam Bangura), Aziz Deen-Conteh; Nathan Ake, Amin Affane (Ismail Seremba), Ruben Loftus-Cheek; Reece Mitchell, Alex Kiwomya, Adam Nditii.
So I think the issue of a competitive match being played is not the key point. It is the argument about the “option agreement” which is a neat way around the rules since it does in fact tie the player to the club – and if he can play in under 18 games, then there is not too much difference in terms of what happens between the “option agreement” and being “signed”.
Chelsea are now arguing that the agreement was registered with, and approved by, both the FA and the Premier League, and that is undoubtedly true, but it is starting to appear that it was the legal terms of the agreement that was rubber stamped by the English authorities, without any reference to the Fifa rules that is the issue. Indeed the agreement appears to say that it is valid subject to Fifa rules being abided by.
So we are back to the questions that were raised in the earlier article. For players from outside the EU to be transferred into the EU they have to live within 100km of the club already, or they have to have one of the player’s parents or guardians moving to the country for non-footballing reasons.
This, as I have said before, is where it gets difficult, as what some clubs try to do is fix up for a parent to get a low-grade job just nearby just before the player signs. Fifa has ruled in the past that where that happens it is the date of the intention to sign that is the key – and of course this pre-dates the offering of the job as an office cleaner or whatever. Clubs do not go around setting up low-grade jobs for parents on the off chance that they might want a transfer from that club one day.
Traoré then moved on to Whitgift School in Croydon – an independent school where Colin Pates works. He is best known for his days at Chelsea, but he did play for Arsenal between 1990 and 1993, and by chance I did get in touch with him a year or two back to see if he’d be interviewed for the Arsenal History website, but got no reply.
Anyway the matter gets murkier as Traoré went on a pre-season tour with the first team in 2013 and both played and scored, which again seems to be an issue that the Spanish clubs are raising. Not a competitive game, but a game that makes the different between signing a player and a pre-signing agreement very slim. Since then Traoré has been on loan at Vitesse Arnhem.
The Press Association have quoted a Fifa spokesperson as saying, “We are not in a position to comment on any investigations that are ongoing so as not to compromise the process, nor do we provide any comments as to whether or not any investigations are under way.”
Chelsea have said,”Bertrand Traore was registered by Chelsea FC in January 2014 in compliance with FA and Premier League Rules. Prior to that date, he was party to an option agreement which enabled the club to acquire his registration in January 2014. The option agreement was registered with, and approved by, both The FA and the Premier League.”
Noticeably no mention of Fifa rules in there, and while I am hardly the world’s expert on Fifa rules, I can’t find anything in the Fifa rules that distinguishes between an “option agreement” and “signing”. In one sense they are different types of contract, but in another, the “option agreement” player is not treated in any different position from where he would be if the player was signed at an age when there is no likelihood of him playing for the club.
The latest news is that Hamburg want to take Traoré on loan before the transfer window shuts which could add further complications to the issue.
And it all comes at an interesting time for Chelsea. They were fined £65,000 and West Bromwich Albion £35,000 by the FA “after failing to ensure their players conducted themselves in an orderly fashion” during the match on January 13.
Guus Hiddink said Yacob should have been dismissed in the game and reported to the press that he expressed his dissatisfaction to fourth official Jon Moss concerning the referee Anthony Taylor.
“I told him: ‘This is one of the worst referees of the Premier League I have experienced’,” said Hiddink.
“He said to me ‘you haven’t seen me yet’, which was a beautiful remark I think.”
- 27 January 2001. QPR 0 Arsenal 6 (FA Cup round 4). Wiltord scored two goals, and there were two own goals. Pires and Bergkamp got one each en route to the final.
- 27 January 2002: Arsenal 1 Liverpool 0 (FA Cup 4) en route to the 3rd Double. Having beaten Watford in the third round Arsenal saw off Liverpool in the fourth with a goal from Bergkamp in 27 minutes.