Chelsea have been accused, after an initial Fifa investigation, of breaking the rules on the signing of 25 foreign players under the age of 18.
The number of cases could rise, with the matter now in the hands of the governing body’s disciplinary committee, which has the power to impose sanctions – chief among them a ban on transfers.
Fifa announced last September that it was looking into alleged breaches at Chelsea when it came to the recruitment of youth players from overseas – making them the first English club to face such
Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid were investigated for infringements related to the signing of minors and each was given a two-window transfer ban, although Real served only one after a successful appeal to the court of arbitration for sport (Cas).
The initial investigation into Chelsea was carried out by the compliance unit of Fifa’s transfer matching system (TMS) and it is believed it was first alerted by the case of Bertrand Traoré, the Burkina Faso forward. He was signed to professional terms by Chelsea on 1 January 2014, the day the transfer window opened after his 18th birthday, but pictures would emerge of him playing for the club against Arsenal in a “non-competitive” game on 23 October 2011, when he was 16. The pictures came to Fifa’s attention in January 2016.
Clubs are not permitted to sign players under the age of 18 from other countries unless their parents have emigrated for reasons not connected to football or both the player and club are based within 50km of a national border.
Under Fifa’s Article 19, the only other exception is for transfers within either the European Union or European Economic Area where the player is aged between 16 and 18. Fifa was concerned that Traoré, who left Chelsea for Lyon last June, did not appear to fulfil any of the exemptions.
TMS flagged a total of 25 player cases in which it thought Chelsea might have transgressed and it passed its findings to the disciplinary committee, which is searching for further examples in a forensic look at the club’s academy.
It is within its remit to discard any of the original 25 cases. The disciplinary committee can examine any incoming transfer over a period of 10 years.
It has requested information from Chelsea and is in contact with the Football Association.
It wants the FA to provide facts and figures for the 25 players – and possibly others – such as the registration details and the matches in which they have played.
The disciplinary committee’s investigation is at an early stage but it is expected to develop quickly over the coming months.
When it has been completed it will submit its evidence to an independent panel within the disciplinary committee, who will reach a verdict. If found guilty, Chelsea would be entitled to appeal to Fifa and then to Cas.