Fifa are said to be looking at illegal Premier League transfers of children. But what are the rules


By Tony Attwood

Back in September 2009 the headline ran, “FIFA and UEFA plan to ban transfers on players under 18 after Chelsea’s punishment over Gael Kakuta”

“Players under the age of 18 could soon be banned from switching clubs,” shouted another headline.

Then Chelsea were suspended from signing any new players until 2011 after signing Lens’ Gael Kakuta.  Michel Platini met the French Secretary of State for Sports Rama Yade, who advised Lens over their pursuit of damages over Kakuta.

A Uefa statement declared: ‘As a strong advocate of a ban on the international transfer of minors, Michel Platini was pleased to find in Rama Yade both an ally and a supporter on this topic, as well as on the locally trained players rule (“home-grown players”) that is approved by the European Union.

Fifa then announced it was in the process of setting up a subcommittee of the Players’ Status Committee that must ratify every international transfer of a player aged 18 or under.   Further announcements suggested that all international transfers, or maybe all transfers of under 18 year olds would be banned.
So what happened?   Well first Chelsea got themselves unbanned after reaching an agreement with Lens which involved giving them £113,000.  As for the player he played six times for Chelsea went on six loans, finally got himself a new contract with Sevilla, and has played once for them, as far as I know.
But how did we get from there to Real Madrid being banned for 51 illegal under 18 year old transfers and Real Mad claiming they did nothing wrong?  And why are there lots of rumours circulating about a bunch of Premier League clubs being next to be picked off by Fifa?
What Fifa did was introduce its  Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players 
This included section 19,1 which said, “International transfers of players are only permitted if the player is over the age of 18” except for “where the player’s parents move to the country in which the new club is located for reasons not linked to football.”
Also as I have noted before, “international” in Fifa terms, recognises the EU as one “nation” since all EU citizens have the right to work in all EU states.   (This is why a vote to leave the EU in the forthcoming UK referendum would destroy the worldwide appeal of the Premier League.  Would the nations of the world really want to pay a fortune to watch the PL on TV if it were made up primarily of English players?)
Instead in the EU, the regulations applied to under 16s.
FIFA rules also say, “The conditions of this article shall also apply to any player who has never previously been registered with a club and is not a national of the country in which he wishes to be registered for the first time”
Now certain clubs whom for the sake of argument we will call Real Madrid and Barcelona saw a real loophole here.  If an agent turned up with an under 18 in tow and they wanted to sign him, the club would arrange for a third party (eg a local food store) to offer a “job” to one of the parents (as a cleaner for example) and then they would say the parent was moving to Spain to take up that job and so the child could come along.
Fifa, being bright for once, saw through this, and said, (roughly), the initial contact between club and player was before the contract date for the parent, and besides, which local store in Barcelona goes to Nigeria (or where ever) to recruit shop staff when there is 30% unemployment in Spain and the incoming shop staff don’t have work permits?
But what really made Real Mad mad (as it were) was a Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling that a mother’s statement in one Real Mad transfer that she decided to move to Spain before her son got the job, could not be relied on as truthful as it was so unlikely.
But then the crafty clubs in Spain realised that if neither national football association knew about the transfer and it just happened they would probably get away with it, since no one would be there to tell Fifa.  And by the time Fifa came along, the exact details of when the parent moved and why would be lost in a welter of also lost paperwork.
In fact it is only because, tucked away within Fifa are actually some decent people who have been trying to stop child traffickers move children around the world for money, that the Spanish scandals have come to light.
To fight back the Spanish clubs have argued that the ban on Under 16 transfers in the EU and the associated EEC should be changed to an under 18 ban, since that would put the EU in line with the rest of the world.
The problem then is that this would be against the rights of the 16 and 17 year olds in Europe to use their position as citizens of the EU and seek work anywhere in the EU.   If Fifa tried to do it the EU would probably react.  The EU really doesn’t like Fifa and Uefa trying to tell elected representatives how to make laws.

In 2009 Fifa started to sort out the mess with a subcommittee of the Players’ Status Committee to ratify every first registration of a player.   That too is helping to slow down what the Spanish clubs can do.

Thus the rule is still the same…

“International transfers of players are only permitted if the player is over the age of 18.”

The two other exceptions are where “b) The transfer takes place within the territory of the European Union(EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) and the player is aged between 16 and 18….” and “c) The player lives no further than 50km from a national border and the club with which the player wishes to be registered in the neighbouring association is also within 50km of that border…”


“The conditions of this article shall also apply to any player who has never previously been registered with a club and is not a national of the country in which he wishes to be registered for the first time.”

So back to the headline.  Are Fifa actually looking at transfers of youngsters into the Premier League?  The PL clubs can transfer 16 and 17 year olds from other EU countries because the laws in the UK allow this.  Spain finds that annoying but that is how it is.  So there has been a lot of mumbling from clubs in Spain and it may be that some malicious stories have been circulated just to muddy the water.

But yes, it is possible that one or two large English clubs with a very international perspective and owners who do not really feel that EU and Fifa regulations apply to them, might have acted in as bad a way of Real Madrid and Barcelona.  I wouldn’t like to name any names, but it is possible.

We must wait and see.

6 Replies to “Fifa are said to be looking at illegal Premier League transfers of children. But what are the rules”

  1. Arsenal may very well be one of those clubs, even though I can not remember any African players being transferred. Zelalem comes to mind as he has got dual nationality I think…

  2. Had a quick review of our Academy players. Most seem legit – possible exceptions being Alex Iwobi (born in Lagos) and, of course, Wellington. I think he may have been U18 when he came – but, of course, couldn’t get a work permit (until this season).

    Place of birth not always listed on .com but the other seem to be EU born – or assumed.

  3. Talking of Wellington, I saw the brief highlights of Bolton’s cup game and Wellington looked quite impressive I thought.

  4. Pete,
    Iwobi is fine he has been with us since he was a youngster and has represented England up to U18 level. Wellington has been on our books since 2011 (age 18 I think as he his now 23), but his connections with the club go back before that as he featured in U16 games as a trialist. He now has Spanish citizenship after a number of season long loan spells. Again OK I think.

  5. These regulations could well be the reason for the delays in us signing the two young Nigerians we are linked with Kelechi Nwakali and Samuel Chukwueze. They both starred in the Nigerian U17 team last year. I have a birth date for Kelechi of 5/6/98 but can’t find one for Samuel.
    The ruling also has implications for the ‘Home Grown’ rule when to qualify players must have been at an English or Welsh club for three years before their 21st birthday.

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