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Fifa blocks Barça youth deals

Governing body says club did not follow regulations in signing child players

La Masia's new headquarters. Ampliar foto
La Masia's new headquarters.

Soccer’s world governing body, Fifa, has blocked Barcelona from signing six youth players after receiving two anonymous complaints, apparently issued by the national federations of the children’s country of origin. The veto affects South Korean youngsters Lee Seung Woo, Paik Seung-Ho and Jang Gyeolhee of the club’s Cadete B side; a French youngster from Cadete A; and a Nigerian-Dutch player and a Cameroonian from Infantil A.

The club, which has officially declined to comment, argues that its priority is to find a solution that principally “benefits the children.” It has also pointed out that in the case of the three Koreans — the nucleus of the complaint — that it was the South Korean Football Federation that negotiated the children’s acceptance into the famed La Masia academy.

“It was they who rang the doorbell. There’s a line of people asking that we run their kids through tests so they can be taken in and their sporting talent nurtured,” say club sources. FC Barcelona maintains that it complies absolutely with Fifa criteria, among which is a pledge to school young players in a vocation that will allow them to pursue a trade outside of soccer in the event their professional career is cut short.

However, the club admitted it had not adhered to other basic requisites — those that Fifa considers fundamental in the admittance of a transfer of a youth player from one federation to another. These are threefold: that the players’ parents should not change their country of residence to the nation where their child’s club is based for soccer-related reasons; that the transfer is only effected within the borders of the European Union or the European Economic Area if the player is between 16 and 18 years of age; and that the player’s parental home is no more than 50 kilometers from the national frontier of his club.

The regulation questions the current legislation in Spain. If followed to the letter, some 15,000 young players on the books of the Catalan Football Federation will need to have their registration reviewed as they are the children of immigrants without papers.

Fifa regulations are largely geared toward placating the Argentinean and Brazilian Football Federations to avoid abuse of the system concerning young players from Africa, but also contain certain anomalies. For example, a parent of Venezuelan twins, one with a natural talent for basketball, one for soccer, could send his sons to La Masia, but only the basketball-playing child would obtain a federative registration. The soccer player would be prevented from playing under Fifa laws.

Barcelona recently lost a court case against former youth player Raúl Baena, from whom the club was seeking compensation for breach of contract. A court ordered Baena, who was signed on a 10-year deal in 2002 but moved to city rival Espanyol in 2008, to pay 3.5 million euros, a decision overturned by the Supreme Court last month. “It was completely illogical: a 13-year-old was mortgaged for life by a contract signed by his parents. This ruling will oblige clubs to take another look at the deals they sign with kids,” said Baena’s lawyer.