This morning, FIFA announced that they were levying a 14-month ban on all transfer activity against FC Barcelona, one of the most powerful clubs in the world and home to arguably the world’s best player, Lionel Messi.
The club, it has been determined, is guilty of signing international youth players that do not fit within FIFA’s clearly stated criteria of a permissible transfer. The law is in place to protect the interests of these young players who are ripe for exploitation; many clubs in the past have preyed on the players’ financial needs in order to make themselves rich, all while leaving numerous promises unfulfilled.
While a super club like Barcelona is unlikely to try and dupe their targeted players, they nevertheless have to play by the same rules as everyone else, and in this case they are pretty clearly guilty. You can read the full statement from FIFA here.
While this process is far from settled (there will surely be numerous appeals), such an extensive ban got us thinking about other times governing bodies have brought down the hammer on teams and players. It has happened throughout sports history, with a number of these bans having large-scale implications for the teams and players affected. Here are some notable examples:
- Chicago Black Sox (1919): Eight members of the Chicago White Sox were found to be guilty of fixing the 1919 World Series, which the Sox lost in eight games (yes, eight) to the Cincinnati Reds. The guilty parties were banned from organized baseball for life, and after posting a very strong 1920 season the franchise sputtered badly, finishing over .500 just seven times in the next 30 years.
- George Steinbrenner (1974): Steinbrenner, an ardent supporter of Richard Nixon, pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice and making illegal contributions to the president’s reelection campaign. He got off with $35,000 in fines, but was suspended from baseball for two years (later reduced to 15 months). An underachieving Yankees squad just barely managed to finish with a .500 record in 1975, but with Steinbrenner back in the fold reached three straight World Series (winning two) from 1976 through 1978.
- George Steinbrenner (1990): Steinbrenner had signed Dave Winfield to a 10-year contract in 1980, and almost immediately began to have buyer’s remorse. After Winfield sued the Yankees for failing to make a $300,000 donation to Winfield’s charity (which was in his contract), George responded by paying an ex-gambler $40,000 to dig up dirt on Winfield. MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent permanently banned Steinbrenner from day-to-day management of the team in July of 1990, touching off one of the most pitiful stretches in franchise history. The Yankees went 67-95 in 1990, 71-91 in 1991, and 76-86 in 1992 without The Boss, and when he returned they showed great promise in 1993 and fully returned to glory following the strike-shortened 1994 season.
- Juventus (2006): After being found guilty of influencing games by having their general managers pressure the league into giving them favorable referees, Juventus got absolutely destroyed with fines and penalties. Among them were relegation to Serie B, losing nine points during the 2006-07 season, a total of over £31 million in fines, being stripped of their 2005 and 2006 Serie A championships, banishment from the 2006-07 Champions League, and being forced to play three home games in an empty stadium.
- Rangers (2012): Despite having won 54 Scottish League titles, Rangers had fallen on hard times financially and in 2012 finally ran out of credit. The subsequent liquidation and acquisition of the club by a new company effectively hit the "reset" button, and the Rangers' application to the Scottish Premier League was denied. They were accepted into the lowest division instead, and despite earning a promotion from the fourth tier into the third following last season, have only just begun the arduous process of regaining their position among the elite teams in Scotland.
For Barcelona, the implications of not being able to bring in new players are quite serious. Club president Josep Maria Bartomeu has gone on record stating that they may be looking to spend as much as €120 million this offseason, but obviously they can't do that if they're not allowed to sign anybody.
Captain Carlos Puyol has already announced he is leaving at season's end, and the contracts for goalkeepers Victor Valdes and Jose Manuel Pinto are both expiring as well. This gaping hole in the back will need to be filled from somewhere, and not being allowed to look outside the club for solutions could pose a major problem.
They may even be looking for a new coach, as there has been rampant speculation that current boss Gerardo Martino will be stepping down at the end of the season. If that is the case, what coach would want to take over a team that can't bring in new players? This lack of freedom could severely limit the number of elite-level managers interested in the job, and thus translate to more ragged play on the pitch.
Spanish clubs on the rise such as Atletico Madrid, Athletic Bilbao, and Real Sociedad would relish the opportunity to gain ground on their Catalan rivals. Not only does a ban weaken Barcelona, but it strengthens the other clubs by virtue of making it impossible for Barca to target their players on the transfer market.
For a club constantly jockeying for La Liga supremacy and perennially competing with the other top European clubs in the Champions League, Barcelona can ill-afford so lengthy a ban. As a result, we suspect that we’re not going to see this situation get resolved any time soon.
Following an appeal filed by FC Barcelona immediately after the ruling was handed down, FIFA has announced that they are suspending the club’s transfer ban until the FIFA Appeal Committee can hear the full story. The reasoning behind this decision is as follows:
“The fact that the FIFA Appeal Committee does not seem in a position to take a decision on the main issue early enough so that an eventual appeal of the club against its decision before the Court of Arbitration for Sport would still be decided before the beginning of the next registration period.
Consequently, the chairman of the FIFA Appeal Committee considered that the appeal lodged by the club is to be granted suspensive effect. In view of the foregoing, the chairman of the FIFA Appeal Committee assures that proper and adequate appeal proceedings will take place and, at the same time, that all rights of the club will be respected.”
So, basically, due process in FIFA’s eyes will conveniently take them into the summer transfer window, which means that Barca will be free to sign whomever they want while under appeal.
This change of events could not come at a better time for the Catalan club, which has been disappointed with their performance this season and is looking to make some changes this summer. A year without trophies is a rarity at Barcelona, and they don’t want to waste a single moment of Lionel Messi’s prime.
Their primary targets will be players who occupy the middle of the field.
First, with goalkeepers Victor Valdes and Jose Manuel Pinto both already announcing their departures, they’ll need someone (or perhaps more than one) to put in net. Marc-Andre ter Stegen of Borussia Moenchengladbach has reportedly already agreed to come aboard, and they may be looking to bring in Pepe Reina as well.
Barcelona also are in need of central midfield help, and while he won’t immediately be playing for the first team, 17-year-old Croatian international Alen Halilovic will be signed as soon as the transfer window opens up. Halilovic has most often been compared with fellow Croatian Luka Modric, and figures to have a very promising career ahead of him.
While it’s still early to determine just how many of these signings Barcelona will actually be able to make, they are undoubtedly glad to be able to have the conversation at all.
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