Manchester United may have to give up their interest in Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid their pursuit of United goalkeeper David de Gea and their immediate interest in Chelsea’s Eden Hazard after the Bernabeu club and city rivals Atletico Madrid were handed a transfer ban by Fifa for the next two windows.
Both clubs were found guilty of breaching rules over the transfer of under-18 players, with Atletico also fined 900,000 Swiss francs (£622,000) and Real told to pay 360,000 Swiss francs. Both deny any wrongdoing and say they will appeal.
Although the ban does not cover the current January transfer window, it could have a far-reaching impact on the global transfer market over 2016 and 2017 as the two clubs are prevented from signing any players next summer or in the January 2017 window.
The two clubs can sell players, but there would seem no point because they would not be able to sign any replacements. They can also buy players but could not play them until the ban ends. The only way round the ban would be for Real and Atletico to fast-track all their planned transfer business and buy players in the remaining two weeks of this transfer window.
The ramifications of the ban could be huge. De Gea will have to stay put. He nearly joined Real last summer, and his new contract is reported to have a buy-out clause which would have allowed him to join his home-town club.
Hazard will also be affected. He has been interesting Real for some time, just as United have been considering Bale and Ronaldo, who also reportedly interests Paris Saint-Germain. However, it is inconceivable that they would let their big names leave if they could not replace them.
Equally, there would be little chance of Chelsea or United persuading Atletico Madrid to sell them French winger Antoine Griezmann if Atletico could not sign anyone to replace him.
In a statement, Fifa gave the reasons for the ban, saying: “Fifa works hard to protect the rights of players under the age of 18 – whether male or female, amateur or professional. This is done through the enforcement of regulations prohibiting the international transfer of minors, or the first registration of minors in a country other than their own, except in specific circumstances.
“The two clubs were found to have violated several provisions concerning the international transfer and first registration of minor players, as well as other relevant provisions with regard to the registration and participation of certain players in competitions.”
Atletico are understood to have broken the rules regarding the signing of minors from 2007 to 2014 and Real Madrid from 2005 to 2014. Up to 50 players from both clubs are understood to have been investigated and the children of current head coach Zinedine Zidane – Enzo, Luca, Theo and Eliaz – are believed to be among them.
Article 19 of Fifa’s transfer regulations state that transfers of under-18s are only possible under three cricumstances.
First, both the player’s parents have moved to the city where the new club is based and the move was not related to the transfer.
Second, the transfer is between two European clubs and the player is over 16.
Third, if a player lives 50km from the border of the country he is moving to and the club is 50km from the same border.
Fellow La Liga giants Barcelona were hit by a two-window ban in April 2014 for a similar offence. Their appeals to Fifa and the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) both failed.
Real and Atletico are only just preparing their appeals now and are privately confident that they can have their bans reduced or even retracted.
Real said the claim that they had signed foreign players under the age of 18 without being properly registered was “absolutely untrue”.
An Atletico statement said: “Our club is not in agreement with the sanction from international football’s governing body, and will study all the documentation we’ve received to present an appeal against the sanction.”