With the dust still settlling on a 1-1 draw against Atletico Madrid at the Nou Camp on Tuesday that could keep Barcelona out of the Champions League semi-finals for the first time in seven years, the club were told by Fifa on Wednesday that they cannot sign any players for the next two transfer windows.
Not only will the world governing body’s ban, if upheld, seriously affect the massive rebuilding job Barcelona believe they must carry out this summer, it will also have huge ramifications for many of Europe’s biggest clubs.
Chelsea had hoped to sell David Luiz to Barcelona before the World Cup, Everton wanted to keep loanee Gerard Deulofeu, and a host of Premier League clubs were watching the situation of Dani Alves, Pedro and Alexis Sanchez, aware they could be available at the right price. If Barça fail to overturn Fifa’s punishment on appeal, not only will they be unable to bring in Luiz but it will also change their attitude towards selling and loaning out players.
Barcelona stand accused of not fully complying with rules over the signing of at least five of their most promising young recruits: the Dutch-Nigerian Under-14 player Bobby Adekanye; three Korean Under-15s, Lee Seung -woo, Paik Seung-ho and Jang Gyeolhee; French Under-16 star Theo Chendri and Cameroonian Under-14 player Patrice Sousia.
All the players in Barcelona’s La Masia youth academy need Spanish Football Federation registration which is why Fifa has fined Spain’s RFEF £340,000, while also ordering the club to pay £305,000.
Champions League: The last eight teams standing
Champions League: The last eight teams standing
1/8 ATLETICO MADRID
Best: Runners-up (1974)
Star man: Diego Costa
Overview: Have let their chances of winning the Primera Division slip lately, but they are still having a superb year thanks to the 22 goals of Diego Costa. A 5-1 aggregate win over AC Milan in the last 16 will have done their confidence no harm.
Best: Winners (1992, 2006, 2009, 2011)
Star man: Lionel Messi
Overview: Also likely to lose out to Real Madrid for the La Liga title following a recent dip in form. Kept their European dream alive with relatively straightforward 4-1 win over Manchester City in the previous round.
3/8 BAYERN MUNICH
Best: Winners (1974, 1975, 1976, 2001, 2013)
Star man: Franck Ribery
Overview: Pep Guardiola is hoping to join an exclusive club of coaches who have won the Champions League with two different clubs. Bayern, unbeaten in the Bundesliga, wasted little effort getting past Arsenal in the second round.
4/8 BORUSSIA DORTMUND
Best: Winners (1997)
Star man: Robert Lewandowski
Overview: Defeated by Bayern in last year's final. Some 23 points behind their rivals in the Bundesliga and went down to a disappointing home defeat to Zenit St Petersburg in the second leg of their last-16 tie.
Best: Winners (2012)
Star man: Eden Hazard
Overview: Chelsea surrendered the initiative to Manchester City in the Premier League title race last weekend when they lost to Aston Villa, but few would bet against Jose Mourinho winning a third Champions League trophy after their ruthless display against Galatasaray in the last round.
6/8 MANCHESTER UNITED
Best: Winners (1968, 1999, 2008)
Star man: Robin van Persie
Overview: David Moyes has endured a horrid debut season domestically, but his team gave United fans a night to remember on Wednesday when they overturned a two-goal deficit to progress at the expense of Olympiacos.
7/8 PARIS SAINT-GERMAIN
Best: Semi-finalists (1995)
Star man: Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Overview: Deprived of a place in the World Cup, Ibrahimovic will be looking to prove to the world that he is just as good as he thinks he is. PSG's expensively-assembled squad hammered Bayer Leverkusen 6-1 on aggregate in previous round.
8/8 REAL MADRID
Best: Winners (1956, 1957, 1958, 1959, 1960, 1966, 1998, 2000, 2002)
Star man: Cristiano Ronaldo
Overview: After a 12-year wait, this could finally be the season when Real Madrid finally achieve la decima (the 10th European Cup). Ronaldo is two goals shy of breaking Lionel Messi's record of 14 in one Champions League campaign following his four-goal haul in the 9-2 aggregate win over Schalke.
Barça have fallen foul of Fifa’s regulations on international youth transfers (see panel). The club argue that the rules are unfair because they judge the unscrupulous clubs in the same way as those who, like Barcelona, attempt to give their young recruits a rounded education.
Barcelona have 90 days to make the changes that will satisfy Fifa’s demands. They are also expected to contest the decision, as Chelsea successfully did over the signing of 16-year-old Gaël Kakuta after being hit with a transfer ban in 2009. The Premier League club won their case because Lens failed to produce a valid contract for Kakuta that would have justified their demand for a £5m transfer fee.
However, this time it is Fifa itself and not a smaller club bringing the case. If an initial appeal fails, Barça could take the case to Court of Arbitration for Sport – the agreed adjudicator on any Fifa dispute – as Chelsea did, and that could result in a suspension of the transfer embargo pending a final decision. That would at least allow them to take full advantage of this summer’s transfer market, though, just like Chelsea in 2009, they are likely to suffer from inflated prices quoted by teams aware of their need to bring in new recruits in case the appeal fails.
Nevertheless the consequences for this summer are potentially serious. President Josep Bartomeu had spoken of a possible €120m (£100m) outlay at the end of the season, with two defenders and a midfielder likely to be added to young Borussia Mönchengladbach goalkeeper Marc-André ter Stegen, who has already signed a pre-contract, and the expected capture of highly-rated Croatian 17-year-old midfielder Alen Halilovic from Dinamo Zagreb.
At the end of the season Barcelona will say goodbye to keeper Victor Valdes, defender Carles Puyol and possibly Xavi Hernandez. The nervous display against Atletico on Tuesday and the panic in defence caused by Gerard Pique’s early injury underline how much a rebuilding project is needed.
Beyond this season’s Champions League, Barcelona’s long-term prospects in Europe’s biggest club competition are under serious threat.