This past week has seen FIFA launch an investigation into Real Madrid’s youth transfer policy and the activities of the club.
FIFA officials have asked Real to provide documents relating to the signing of 51 youth players, though the club have subsequently disputed this number in a press release.
The issues in question relate to a potential breach of FIFA rules governing the transfer of players aged under-18. These rules had been put in place to prevent clubs relocating families in order to sign young footballers who may or may not have a secure future in the game.
While the details of the investigation and the alleged wrongdoing by Real Madrid are currently mere speculation, it has raised the issue of how clubs conduct their transfer business with regard to young players and their families.
Clubs have previously been accused of bribing family members with either cash or job opportunities, offering financial incentives to players themselves and making approaches to players outside of the recognised official channels.
The accusation is generally that clubs take advantage of the naivety of young players or the desperate situations many of them find themselves and their family in.
Players from poor, sometimes even impoverished, backgrounds might easily be swayed by the thought of being able to earn enough money to live the luxurious footballer’s lifestyle. Meanwhile, there is no guarantee they will ever get the opportunities promised to them.
Real’s fierce rivals Barcelona are currently operating under a transfer ban imposed upon them for a similar breach of FIFA rules and it appears the governing body are looking to clamp down on clubs who either stretch, or outright break the rules designed to protect young players.
As well as the potential for young players to be tempted by promises of luxury and fortunes to be made, there is also the distinct potential for larger clubs to poach the best young talent from lesser sides in the hope that they will one day develop into a first team player.
However, it is often the case that promising young players fade away when consigned to reserve and junior teams for years at a time.
Chelsea have become notorious for such practices, hoarding promising young players from smaller clubs who cannot ignore the financial benefit a deal with Chelsea can bring. The players involved are, unsurprisingly, often attracted by the thought of joining a ‘big’ team and becoming an international star.
While some undoubtedly make this progression, Thibaut Courtois being one recent notable example, many are left by the wayside, promising careers derailed by years spent warming the bench or playing well below the level their early promise seemed to indicate they were destined for.
Perhaps the best example of this comes not from serial hoarders Chelsea, but reigning champions Manchester City. In August 2012, City signed promising Everton midfielder Jack Rodwell.
Rodwell had become a mainstay of the Everton side over the preceding seasons and looked assured of a place in the England national side in the years that followed.
However, following his move he struggled with injuries, lack of form and lack of game time. Eventually, his dearth of opportunities in the City first team led him to seek a move away from Manchester, which culminated in his £10m transfer to Sunderland in August 2014.
Since leaving Everton, Rodwell has on occasion, shown flashes of the brilliance that led to him being touted as the next big English star but has failed to consistently live up to his early promise. This is in no small part down to his limited game time in the past few years.
Examples such as this are rife, particularly in English football where the influx of huge television deals has allowed clubs to speculate on unproven young players.
This, combined with the risks of naïve young players being tempted by agents and club representatives into signing unwise deals, makes FIFA’s actions, in investigating clubs and sanctioning them harshly for breaches, a long overdue but very welcome sign of change.