A guide to the FIFA rules on the international transfer of minors
by James Severn & William Wilson
The January transfer window is now upon us. Managers and clubs will be working hard to make improvements to their squads and many players and their agents will be considering contract offers from new and existing clubs.
This is nothing new for those involved and the movements in this transfer window will hit the news like any other year. There is, however, a growing trend for international transfers of English academy players, which will only be enhanced by the success of the England age group teams this summer.
Clubs across Europe are keen sign the best young players from England’s productive academy system and English clubs are reluctant to sell their home-grown talent to their domestic rivals. As a result we are seeing an increase in enquiries about the transfer of English academy talent to European clubs.
Jadon Sancho, who left Man City for Borussia Dortmund for a fee reported to be in the region of £8m in the summer of 2017, is arguably the most high-profile such transfer to date, and with first-team opportunities for academy players in the English Premier League limited, it is not surprising that ambitious young players, fresh from success on the international stage, are looking abroad for top-level first team experience.
Transfer of a minor – the process
The process of an international transfer of a minor is more complicated than that of a senior player as the transfer must satisfy the requirements of Regulation 19 of FIFA’s Status and Transfer of Players Regulations 2018 (the “Regulations”). The starting point is Regulation 19.1, which provides that international transfers of players are only permitted if the player is over the age of 18. Regulation 19.2, however, provides an exception to this rule, setting out that the international transfer of a player aged 18 or under may be permitted if at least one of the following conditions a-c is met:
a) The player’s parents move to the country in which the new club is located for reasons not linked to football.
b) The transfer takes place within the EU or EEA and the player is aged 16 to 18, in which case the new club must fulfil the following minimum obligations:
(i) It shall provide the footballer with an adequate football education and/or training in line with the highest national standards.
(ii) It shall guarantee the player an academic/school/vocational education/training in addition to his football education and/or training, which will allow the player to pursue a career other than football should he cease playing professional football.
(iii) It shall make all necessary arrangements to ensure that the player is looked after in the best possible way (optimum living standards with host family or in club accommodation, appointment of a mentor at the club, etc.).
(vi) It shall, on registration of such a player, provide the relevant association with proof that it is complying with the aforementioned obligations.
c) The player lives no further than 50km for a national border and the club with which the player wishes to be registered in the neighbouring association is also within 50km of the border.
For the vast majority of transfers of English academy players it is unlikely that 19.2(a) and (c) will be relevant so, for the purposes of this article, we shall focus on 19.2(b) and, in particular, the requirement to guarantee “an academic/school/vocational education/training”. According to XPro, an organisation established to assist former professional footballers after the end of their football playing career, 40% of former players will be experiencing serious financial difficulties within 5 years of retiring (http://www.xpro.org/about/) and many players find that their opportunities of employment are limited because they often do not have the necessary qualifications.
Given these difficulties, FIFA are keen to ensure that young players receive as good an education as possible and there are strict educational requirement that must be complied with if a there is to be an international transfer of a minor.
The Regulations provide that it is the responsibility of the player’s prospective new club to prove that it will be in a position to provide the player with a good “academic/school/vocational education” as well as a football education. In February 2017, FIFA published a “Minor Player Application Guide” (the “Guide”), which provides guidance for Clubs wishing to sign a minor from another country. The Guide sets out that the Club / national football association wishing to register the player must provide documentary proof of the academic education the player will receive. Such documentary proof must include:
“a signed and stamped statement issued by the relevant academic provider that confirms the player’s enrolment, the qualification the player will receive upon completion of the course, the player’s expected date of graduation and a signed weekly academic schedule of the player that clearly indicates the days on which each class meets and the duration of each class”.
It will often be harder for a Club to show that it meets the stringent requirements for an academic education than for it to demonstrate its ability to provide a football education. The level of detail set out in the Guide is significant and the new club will require the close assistance of the educational institution which the player will attend so that it can provide the level of detail that the Regulations require.
Once an application is made, a sub-committee appointed by FIFA’s Players’ Status Committee will review the application. It is understood that when Jadon Sancho was transferred to Borussia Dortmund, the buying club’s academy had already been cleared by FIFA; however the transfer was held up so that FIFA could confirm that the teaching facilities were up to scratch. This demonstrates the importance that FIFA attaches to the academic element of the transfer requirements. The approval of the sub-committee must be obtained before a request for an International Transfer Certificate can be made.
The national association of the selling club (which, in case of Jadon Sancho, was the FA) will also have the opportunity to submit its position in relation to whether the player’s proposed new club will meet the requirements of Regulation 19.2(b). There is no evidence to suggest that the FA was opposed to the transfer at the time; however, much to the annoyance of the FA, Jadon Sancho missed the latter stages of the FIFA Under 17 World Cup because he was called back by Borussia Dortmund to play in their Under 23 team. In light of possible detriments to its national sides such as this, the FA may not be so amenable to the transfer of one of its youth team stars next time around.
Clubs and national associations which act in violation of Regulation 19 may become subject to sanctions. Both Atletico Madrid and Real Madrid have had sanctions imposed on them by the FIFA DRC relating to the international transfer and registration of players aged 18 or under. The sanctions included fines and a transfer ban, the effects of which can be tangible and severe. To give a high-profile example, in September 2017, Atletico Madrid secured the signing of Diego Costa from Chelsea for a fee that is reported to be in the region of £57 million; however, Costa was barred from representing Atletico until January 2018 as a result of their transfer ban.
The international transfer of a player aged 18 or under is not straight forward and all those involved must take care to ensure that they can provide necessary education and support to the young players involved. If this process is mismanaged then the proposed transfer may fall through. If the requirements are ignored or misunderstood then sanctions may be imposed on the clubs and football associations involved.