On Wednesday April 2nd, the sporting world was rocked by the news that Barcelona was being slapped with a 14 month transfer ban for violating FIFA regulations concerning the transfer and signing of players under the age of 18. The club was also fined $509,000 as part of the punishment. If the ban is enforced immediately, Barcelona will miss out on the next two transfer windows and will only be eligible for player transfers in June 2015. As expected, the Nou Camp outfit is appealing the decision, a process which could take months and delay the start of any potential punishment. Even if the club’s appeal is unsuccessful, the delay caused by this process could allow time for new signings to be completed which would get the club better situated to endure the transfer ban.
Barcelona are not the first, nor the last, football club to violate the rules and be punished for it. In 2009, Premier League side Portsmouth were slapped with a transfer ban for failing to pay their players. The financial crisis worsened for the club when it went into administration twice and incurred point deductions which ensured relegation and the loss of players. Rangers FC, from the Scottish League, also failed to keep their finances in order and were relegated to the fourth tier of Scottish football, a devastating punishment. In Serie A, probably the best known punishment for violating the rules was the relegation of Juventus to Serie B. Despite returning to Serie A and competing at the highest levels, the club lost several key players and were the butt of many jokes because of the scandal.
In terms of transfer violations, Chelsea provide an example of potential punishment (or lack of) handed down by FIFA. In the summer of 2009, the London club signed Gael Kakuta from French side Lens. FIFA deemed the transfer illegal and slapped Chelsea with a two-year transfer ban. The Blues fought the charge and won with a court ruling Kakuta’s contract with Lens was invalid. The two year ban was removed. It is this episode that Barcelona are looking to as they prepare to challenge the FIFA charge.
On the surface, this doesn’t seem like much of a catastrophe for the Catalan giants. After all, they have a very strong squad filled with many talented and loyal players. Players like Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta have all come up through the ranks, developing with the club’s academy or B team over the years. They bleed red and blue. Additionally, there are a number of younger players breaking into the first team, as well as loaned players, who can all be used to bolster the ranks. These players include Bojan Krkic, Cristian Tello, Gerard Deulofeu , Sergi Roberto and Rafinha. At a glance, it appears as though this club could ride out a transfer ban with the resources at hand. Dig a little deeper, however, and there are some cracks which could potentially turn into potholes if the ban is enforced.
The news of FIFA’s impending transfer ban comes at a potentially bad time for both Barcelona’s President, Josep Maria Bartomeu, and team manager, Gerardo Martino. Being in charge of one of the world’s most famous and successful clubs, Batomeu naturally faces a high level of scrutiny and pressure. Added to this is the cloud which already hangs over the club known as the Neymar transfer saga. While Bartomeu’s predecessor, Sandro Rosell, is the key figure being investigated, the ongoing court action is like an anchor weighing on all of the club’s leadership. The latest transfer ban news not only adds to the pressure of being president, but also potentially challenges Bartomeu’s efforts to get a ‘yes vote’ on an $820 million Camp Nou stadium redevelopment project. It is feared club members, known as socios, will use the vote to voice disapproval of the current board and leadership.
On the pitch, it is reported that manager Gerardo Martino has the option to leave at the end of this season. Whether the Argentine manager will leave is anyone’s guess. The current political climate at the club, combined with a potential lack of reinforcements in the off-season, can’t be helping any decision to stay.
4. The Defense
This past week, defender Gerard Pique landed badly and suffered a pelvic contusion in the UEFA Champions League clash with Atletico Madrid. Short term, the 27 year old will miss the next four weeks. The injury itself comes at a key moment in Barcelona’s season. In addition to being unable to shake his hips to girlfriend Shakira’s music, Pique will miss the next Champions League encounter. More importantly in the long term, the Spanish defender’s injury highlights how potentially vulnerable Barcelona could be at the back if the transfer ban comes into effect.
Barcelona were planning to strengthen their defence this upcoming summer. Carles Puyol, long time servant of the club, is set to leave. There is a strong likelihood that the veteran defender would stay if asked. However, Puyol will be 36 and has developed a series of knee related problems which would likely hinder his contribution. Right-back Dani Alves is another question mark for the club. Rumors have the Brazilian leaving for a new club and Barcelona have been looking for a potential replacement. Chelsea’s David Luiz and Athletic Bilbao’s Aymeric LaPorte are reported targets, but these may have to be shelved. The club can turn to younger players developed within the team over the years. The downside to this approach is that such players tend to lack the experience needed to compete over a season.
3. The Goalkeeper Situation
The potential problems facing the club in defense can also be found in the goalkeeping department. The keeper situation is an immediate concern that must be addressed this summer. The club’s two primary goal keepers, Victor Valdes and Jose Manuel Pinto, are both finished their contracts at the end of this season. Valdes has been a mainstay between the uprights over the years, but rumors have him leaving for the money-rich clubs of Manchester City or Monaco. A serious knee injury, suffered recently, only makes matters worse. Even if Valdes decided to stay another year, he is likely out until the fall of 2014. Barcelona do have two backup keepers in the form of Jordi Masip and Oier Olazabal. Both lack substantial experience and, while they could fill the role, whether or not they could perform adequately for a whole season is another question.
2. Youth Development
Would a potential transfer ban hurt Barcelona’s youth development? The answer to this is likely no, at least in the long term. With La Masia, Barcelona have developed one of the most famous youth academies in the world. La Masia has produced some top quality players over the years. Xavi, Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta, Carles Puyol, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Busquets, Victor Valdes and Jordi Alba are but a few of the many famous players to have graduated from “the farmhouse.’ Barcelona’s youth program trains hundreds of players. In the long term, 14 months of no new faces will probably have little impact as the club will just move forward training and developing the hundreds of potential stars it already possesses. It is equally unlikely that parents and their children will be turned off knowing the club has been punished with a ban. Thousands of kids will still show up to try out for admittance into La Masia.
That said, in the short term, there is the possibility that Barcelona’s youth system could miss out on the next big star. A transfer ban would mean any young talent unearthed in other leagues would be untouchable for 14 months. The club could miss out on the next big star as they are forced to sit idle and hope other clubs don’t snap up the best prospects. Imagine if it was 2000. Barcelona would know of a potential star named Lionel Messi, but would be unable to officially sign him up. That scenario could present itself with a transfer ban.
1. Club Pride and Prestige
Red-top papers and blogs are full of claims that all of this spells the apocalypse for the Catalan giants. Not so much. There remains far too much talent and depth to allow for any sort of collapse. A ban could, however, open the door just a little bit more for league rivals to gain a few steps. Rivals, like Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid, must be licking their lips at the prospect of Barcelona being held back in the next two transfer windows. If the ban is enforced, expect the two clubs to make a push to outstrip their La Liga rival in an attempt to bump Barca down the pecking order.
Finally, it is likely that there will be no big summer unveiling battle between Real Madrid and Barcelona. In the past it was Zlatan Ibrahimović vs Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar vs Gareth Bale. Barcelona fans and management will have to endure at least one summer of sitting by and watching while their rivals unveil shiny new multi-million dollar players. It’ll be like sitting at home with an Xbox 360 while that guy who really annoys you talks about his new Xbox One. Just be forewarned, the Xbox 360 is still a very capable machine. Now that I think of it, I wonder if Barcelona will have a transfer ban in EA Sports’ FIFA 15?