News broke Monday that FIFA has begun an investigation into Real Madrid's youth system: the sport's governing body is looking to ascertain whether Real Madrid violated any rules in signing foreign youth players to join la Fábrica (Madrid's youth system). This investigation comes on the heals of FIFA's highly-publicized investigation of FC Barcelona for similar violations of FIFA's statutes. FIFA's investigation of FC Barcelona culminated in crippling sanctions: a two-window transfer ban, meaning that the culés will not be allowed to acquire any new players until January of 2016. Should Real Madrid fans be worried about similar punishment?
In a word, no--or, at least, not if Real Madrid's public statement is true. While superficially Madrid's case seems to mirror FIFA's investigation of FC Barcelona, upon closer examination the two circumstances begin to seem very different in some very important ways.
First, according to Article 19 of FIFA's Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, international transfers of players under the age of 18 are generally prohibited unless they fall into one of three exceptions. Before we get into the technical nuance of these rules, however, we need to understand the purpose behind the rules--because that's what Barcelona's entire case was about. The general purpose of these regulations is to protect minors: no one wants children to feel like they have to uproot themselves, drop out of school and move to a new country simply to try to pursue a footballing career that likely won't pan out. This generally makes sense: at that young an age, we as a society should care more about making sure that our children are educated than that they become good footballers. Additionally, we don't want national federations to be able to rob other national federations of their young talent--to me, this seems like the actual justification behind these rules, because no one in their right mind thinks that FIFA actually cares about kids.
Barcelona argued that la Masia isn't just a football academy, and as such, that it's more like a private school than a purely footballing youth system: therefore, they concluded, they weren't violating the purpose of the FIFA regulation. If anything, Barcelona argued, these kids were better off coming to Barcelona and living/studying/training at la Masia than they would be in their home countries. FIFA didn't buy this argument, and because Barcelona never denied that they were violating the rules, they lost their case in court.
Real Madrid, however, never claimed that the rules shouldn't apply to them: in fact, los blancos argued the exact opposite--that they had gone far out of their way to make sure that each player passed the rigorous standards that FIFA requires. There are three exceptions to the general ban on international transfers of minors:
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 territory of the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) and the player is aged between 16 and 18.
In this case, the new club must fulfill the following minimum obligations:
i) It shall provide the player with an adequate football education and/or training in line with the highest national standards.
ii) It shall guarantee the player an academic and/or school and/or vocational education and/or 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 a host family or in club accommodation, appointment of a mentor at the club, etc.).
iv) 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 from a national border and the club with which the player wishes to be registered in the neighbouring association is also within 50km of that border. The maximum distance between the player’s domicile and the club’s headquarters shall be 100km. In such cases, the player must continue to live at home and the two associations concerned must give their explicit consent.
In Real Madrid's statement, the club goes far out of its way to show how each player that FIFA names either is exempt from this list--that is, is already a Spanish national and therefore is not "foreign," for example--or falls into one of these three exceptions. In fact, los blancos go out of their way to remind FIFA that they had actually cancelled the transfer of certain players because they had consulted with FIFA about the transfers, and FIFA decided that they could not proceed.
This is hardly the action of a club that is trying to make a political point--like Barcelona--or a club that has no idea what is going on--which could be another problem with Barcelona, though I tend to assume that the culé management aren't just a bunch of idiots.
Real Madrid seems to be very well counseled in this respect, and if everything in their statement proves true, it is very unlikely that FIFA will find cause to discipline the side.