By Tony Attwood
What annoys me – and annoys me a lot – is when lazy journalism means that football stories are published without any reference to relevant context.
For example, stories about Arsenal signing all sorts of players continue, even though the club has now reached the £70m limit that the media told us had been imposed. Of course I don’t know if that £70m limit in transfer fees was a media invention, and the fact that the club has reached that is pure coincidence, or whether it was true. But either way it is relevant when discussing further transfer possibilities.
But it seems the writers either are themselves very forgetful, or they are insistent on treating us like children who when told something at 9am immediately forget it at 9.05am when something else comes along.
The current story that gets me exercised got a very strange launch in the Daily Mirror’s “Football London” website which is clearly published by computer program with no interference from people of any kind.
Their journey into the unknown with the headline launched with “Arsenal open talks with Barcelona midfielder” an article which caught the eye because it looks like a new story, and an interesting one at that, but which then, in the body of the text contained no mention of that story at all.
This is of course the sort of thing that can happen when a website is set up by and also run by automatic systems. Indeed I think one can now say of that site, “40 Arsenal stories a day untouched by humans”.
However Untold is nothing if not people operated, and so we went a-looking for where this story might come from and it turns out there is a story – although a very odd one.
The player in question appears to be Joel Lopez who is 15 and a scholar with Barcelona who (it is said by “sources”) has rejected a contract extension and so left. There is “speculation” that he could join Arsenal with the Express newspaper getting particularly excited about him signing schoolboy terms, and then a professional contract in one year’s time.
Now this is an avenue we have meandered down before, not least because Fifa regulations prohibit the transfer of those under 18 unless their parents have moved from one country to the next for reasons not connected to football or both the player and club are based within 50 km of a mutual national border.
There is however (as we have oft noted) an exception which relates to transfers in which the player and the new club are both within either the EU or European Economic Area. In that case the minimum age is 16. For English clubs this rule still applies – but it will cease to apply on 29 March 2019. After that, while the rest of Europe retains the 16 year old rule for transfers, for clubs in the UK the rule will be that players have to be 18.
This is something that the FA appears to welcome, as a way of helping develop English nationals for the England team. It was also mentioned in discussions by “experts” on British TV in the aftermath of England being knocked out of the WC. (That was a rather curious exchange in fact since it involved suggesting that English players are at a disadvantage when compared with the rest of Europe because there are too many foreigners playing in the PL. Something that ignored the fact that England was the only country that had every single player in its WC squad playing in its own league. If we are looking for a change that might help, we could suggest that all England players should be forced to play for four years in foreign lands in order to understand what it is that foreigners do.)
Anyway, if Arsenal do want to sign the lad, they have to wait until he is 16. Then if he is 16 before 29 March next year Arsenal can sign him. After that, no chance – we’ll have to wait until he is 18.
Interestingly, I have not seen any “outlets” as they are now called, discuss this problem, which will undoubtedly restrict the transfer activities of the “buy em all no matter how young” clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City.
Now there was a challenge in 2016 to these rules, which stated that “Fifa implemented these regulations on the pretext that young football players … must be protected. In reality, however, these regulations lead to a discrimination of football players from third countries outside the European Union.” An appeal against the Uefa regulations was launched in 2016, but I can’t find what happened to it. Maybe it is still being heard, maybe it died.
You might recall that clubs such as Real Madrid, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid were all banned from completing transfers by Fifa over matters related to underage players from outside the EU, and it is reported by organisations such as Culture Foot Solidaire set up by Jean-Claude Mbvoumin who played for Cameroon that the trade still goes on.
We await developments with interest.
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