FIFA have banned Chelsea for a period of two transfer windows after violations of Article 19 and Article 18b of the Regulation on the Transfers and Status of Players (RTSP) nearly two months after the club completed the signing of Christian Pulisic. Here's a Q&A to make sense of it:
Q: Let's see: Chelsea won't be able to sign anybody new until the 2020-21 season? That's got to be a massive blow.
A: Easy there. We've been here before with transfer bans inflicted on Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid and Barcelona for similar violations. The fact of the matter is that Chelsea can appeal the case to FIFA. If the ban is upheld, they can appeal it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. All of that takes time.
Take Barcelona. They received a two-window ban in April 2014, their appeal to FIFA was rejected in August 2014, and the CAS appeal was rejected on Dec. 30, 2014. The whole appeals process took eight months.
For Chelsea to be hit with the ban this summer, they would need to exhaust all their appeals before the summer transfer window opens July 1, in a little over four months' time. Assuming Chelsea appeal -- and why wouldn't they? -- it's hard to see how that could happen when Barcelona's took a full eight months. It's far more realistic that the ban would affect the January 2020 and summer 2020 windows. And that's assuming it doesn't get overturned or reduced on appeal, which is a possibility.
Q: So Chelsea would go into this summer knowing they would likely have a one- or two-window transfer ban coming up. How would that affect them?
A: Well, if Barcelona's behaviour in that situation is anything to go by, they would likely go on a massive spending spree and reload. That's what Barca did in the summer of 2014, splashing out nearly $200 million on Luis Suarez, Ivan Rakitic, Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Claudio Bravo, Jeremy Mathieu and others.
You'd imagine it would be a busy summer for Chelsea anyway, given that Eden Hazard will have to decide whether he wants to stick around -- he has stalled on a new deal and is waiting to see how real Real Madrid's interest might be -- and the club will have to decide what to do with Callum Hudson-Odoi, who has broken off contract talks and asked to be transferred. Plus Willian, Pedro and David Luiz will all be entering the final years of their contracts. The club will have to decide whether to extend or sell.
Q: Surely that will depend on who the manager is?
A: Absolutely. If Maurizio Sarri is confirmed for next season, he'll presumably want to bring in guys in key positions who fit his system better. If he's sacked, then the new guy will be in charge of the rebuild. Either way, there will be plenty of comings and goings, just like at Barcelona. One thing that is pretty certain is they won't be short on players.
Q: How so?
A: Well, first and foremost, Chelsea will have this summer to add players. Plus, they have 20 guys out on loan who are under contract beyond 2019. They will be allowed to bring them back even once the transfer ban kicks in. Some are promising youngsters (Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Ola Aina and Fikayo Tomori spring to mind) some are more senior players who did not quite work out (Michy Batshuayi, Alvaro Morata, Kurt Zouma, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Victor Moses), and some are guys who might never work out.
Plus, there's Pulisic, whose transfer was completed in January, and though he stayed on loan at Borussia Dortmund, he'll be coming in the summer.
Basically, even if the ban were to take effect on July 1, which it almost certainly won't, Chelsea won't be lacking for numbers.
Q: What exactly were they found guilty of?
A: It's basically two things. Article 19 concerns the registration of minors. Chelsea are accused of having played youngsters -- most of them kids on trial -- in their youth teams without registering them. FIFA rules state that they need to have the requisite paperwork, even though the football association, which not coincidentally has also been found to be in breach, have rather more relaxed rules, which is why they are likely to join Chelsea in their appeal.
One of the most high-profile examples is Bertrand Traore. He's a Burkina Faso international (he made his debut for them at just 15) who was at Auxerre but moved to London at age 15. Chelsea could not legally sign him because minors from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) can't move to clubs abroad except if it's for "non-footballing reasons" (or if the club is less than 60 miles from the border).
Instead, Chelsea paid to send him to a private boarding school. He appeared in a few friendlies for the youth team as a trial and eventually signed when he turned 18.
Q: And the other?
A: This concerns article 18b, which relates to "third-party influence." That's the practice, which used to be legal until 2017 but no longer is, of entering into agreements with outside parties (usually agents) that influence how another club operates in employment and transfer-related matters.
FIFA haven't gone into specifics on this, but such cases in the past might have involved players or their agents and family members being paid to breach their contracts. Chelsea have been charged for this in the past, notably with Gael Kakuta and John Obi Mikel. In both cases, they agreed to compensation subsequently, and the charges were dropped.
Q: How is this going to play out?
A: Well, as I said, I'm pretty sure they can slow-roll this so the ban doesn't come into force until after the summer. The interesting thing will be whether it gets reduced, either by the FIFA appeals committee or by CAS. Famously, Barcelona and Atletico Madrid did not see their bans reduced. On the other hand, Real Madrid did, from two windows to one. Although there are some parallels, there are also stark differences between the natures and scales of the infractions.
What seems pretty evident by the timing of the announcement is that FIFA are willing to give Chelsea time to prepare, just as they did with Barcelona. They know full well how long the appeals process is likely to take.