By Andrew Warshaw
February 22 – Big-spending Chelsea, in the headlines for much of the season for all the wrong reasons, have been slapped with a two-window transfer ban by FIFA and fined CHF600,000 after being found guilty of illegally signing no fewer than 29 under-age foreign players.
Already in turmoil over the future of manager Maurizio Sarri and under investigation by UEFA over alleged racist chanting by their fans, FIFA say the London club owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich have breached international regulations relating to overseas minors under the age of 18.
The English Football Association has also been fined CHF 610,000, for having “breached the [transfer] rules in connection with minors”, presumably meaning approving the relevant registrations, and has been warned to clean up its act within six months or face further punishment.
Chelsea have long been subjected to intense scrutiny over their policy of hoarding players and then sending them out on loan, some of them big-name signings unable to attract a buyer, others promising young home-grown talent shipped out to develop elsewhere but often simply ending up stagnating.
According to English media reports, of the staggering 41 players Chelsea currently have out on loan, 19 are English nationals at lower league clubs, many of them hugely promising.
Transfer bans for similar offences have also been imposed by FIFA on the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid. All three have managed to remain competitive given the strength of their squads but Chelsea are the first major Premier League to suffer the same fate, calling into question their modus operandi and whether they can continue to buy success.
FIFA, who apparently conducted a three-year investigation before making its ruling, said it found breaches in 29 cases out of 92 investigated and have given the club 90 days to rectify the situation concerning the players signed.
No sooner had ban, lasting until January 2020, been announced than Chelsea -– who will still be able to sell players – said they will appeal, most probably resulting in a delay of the sanction if previous instances of similar infractions involving other clubs are anything to go by.
“Chelsea acted in accordance with the relevant regulations and will shortly be submitting its appeal to FIFA,” the club said.
A spokesperson for the English FA insisted the body had “co-operated fully” with the investigations and had “raised some concerns” regarding FIFA’s disciplinary processes.
“The FA intends to appeal against the decision. We will, however, continue to work with FIFA and Chelsea in a constructive manner to address the issues which are raised by this case.”
FIFA bans the transfer of under-18s overseas unless they meet three strict specific criteria. The rule was brought in to help avoid exploitation and trafficking.
While Chelsea will be confident of winning any appeal, at least partially, the club has history when it comes to transfer rules.
In September, 2017, FIFA said they were probing Chelsea for the third time in eight years over recruiting minors from overseas. Further back still, the club were banned in 2009 from signing players for two transfer windows, a decision successfully reduced on appeal.
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