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January transfer window thrown into chaos by confusion over Fifa agent rules

The situation has been described as ‘a total mess’ by some, with big January transfers potentially affected

Miguel Delaney
Chief Football Writer
Saturday 30 December 2023 16:28 GMT
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Confusion over Fifa’s agent rules could throw the upcoming window into chaos
Confusion over Fifa’s agent rules could throw the upcoming window into chaos (Getty)

The January transfer window has been thrown into chaos less than 48 hours before it opens, as Fifa has advised a temporary suspension of its reform of football agent regulations. The decision is even putting major deals in jeopardy, as clubs attempt to work out which system applies and what drafts of paperwork to do.

The development comes after a German court ruled that an injunction applied to all of the European Union, forcing Fifa to reconsider its stance and lodge an appeal.

The main problem arises because federations had been working towards a new licensing system that was expected to be applied for this window. It is only days since the Football Association, for example, issued a series of guidelines based on the expected changes and The Independent understands that member associations were left surprised by the temporary suspension.

As late as Saturday afternoon, around 36 hours before the transfer window opens, Fifa issued a circular to member associations announcing it was temporarily suspending its reforms due to a decision to appeal an injunction in the District Court of Dortmund that requested the suspension of the application of key provisions. Among these were the salary cap, service fee payments, a rule requiring clients to directly pay their representatives and a prohibition of double representation.

In December, it was decided by another court in Germany that this would extend to all of the European Union. Since this would lead to a huge imbalance in the market, Fifa felt they had no option but to temporarily suspend the provisions until the outcome of an appeal. A number of sources simultaneously insist, however, that it was also because their hand was forced by the refusal of some member associations - including Switzerland’s - to implement the planned reforms.

This has created “panic” in the associations that were set to implement the rules, including the FA. The Independent has been told that this had been raised at board level, but there was no agreement on whether to postpone implementation or ask Fifa to do so. That has fed to even greater frustration because such move from Fifa had been anticipated over the last fortnight. There is now fury it has been left until virtually the last minute, creating a flurry of activity in clubs and agencies.

A number of questions remain unanswered mere hours before the window opens, including whether the FA will still use the Whole Game and IMS system, or will agents still be required to be Fifa licensed and then also FA licensed under the new system. Another uncertainty is whether minors can be signed in the year of their birthday or will it be the new rules relating to the academy year.

The latest development is part of a long-running battle between the global governing body and the agent industry, where there have been constant legal challenges to Fifa's attempts at reform. It was only on 30 November that a group of major UK agencies won a ruling in a British arbitral tribunal against Fifa over the application of some of the key measures, most notably the cap on commissions.

The latest development has been met with fury and bewilderment within the game, with many involved figures describing the situation as a “total mess”. Aside from the considerations over what system applies, many clubs had been structuring deals assuming some of the reforms were coming into play. It especially affects those who are close to Financial Fair Play limits.

The situation has been described as a ‘total mess’ by some, with fingers pointing at Fifa (AP)

On the other side, however, there is a feeling that agents “made their own bed” on this since they challenged the reforms and this was an inevitable outcome. “They should be celebrating,” was one quip.

Involved figures have nevertheless been describing it as “a huge hurdle ahead of January business”. The FA said they were considering the impact of the situation and a spokesperson stated: “Today we were made aware that Fifa has suspended certain global regulations for agents, which were recently introduced. We are considering the impact of this development and will issue an update regarding the FA Football Agent Regulations [FFAR] as soon as possible”

The circular sent round by Fifa states: “This injunction is inconsistent with previous judicial decisions in other European countries, the CAS award as well as previous decisions in Germany, including from appeals courts. Fifa has therefore initiated appeal proceedings against the injunction and an appeal decision is expected in the first semester of 2024.

“In order to comply with the Injunction, Fifa will suspend the implementation of the FFAR for any transfer which has a link to the European Union. Implementing the injunction only for transfers linked to the European Union would create a situation of unequal legal standards within the international transfer system, in particular between Europe and the rest of the world. As the world governing body of football and a prudent and responsible regulator, Fifa has a duty to prevent such uncertainty and inequality and protect competitive balance at a worldwide level.

“In light of the foregoing, on 30 December 2023 the Bureau of the Council approved the worldwide temporary suspension of the FFAR rules affected by the above-mentioned German court decision, until the European Court of Justice renders a final decision in the pending procedures concerning the FFAR.

“In this light, we recommend all the member associations to temporarily suspend the equivalent provisions from their national football agent regulations, unless they conflict with mandatory provisions of the law applicable in their territory."

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