Because their youth systems look like a scene from The Matrix…
…only perhaps more sinister, Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid are facing a one-year transfer ban, according to reports in Spain.
This would have a drastic effect on world soccer – because what are we going to talk about this summer if Real can’t spend weeks detaching the planet’s best players from their clubs by carefully-worded public seduction techniques, then offering the seller a transfer fee about 50% more than they’re worth? The International Champions Cup?
In fairness to Real and Atlético, they’re not really evil machines incubating humans in giant high-tech baby farms. (As far as we know. But we haven’t been into every room in the Vicente Calderón to check.) They’re accused of breaking FIFA rules on international transfers of minors, much like Barcelona did to earn their own ban until January 2016. Kids’ parents are only allowed to emigrate for non-soccer reasons, while players can switch countries if they live by a border or are aged 16-18 and in the European Union.
The story’s been rumbling in the background since January, when it was first reported. According to ESPN, Atletico have 43 young players from 26 countries on their books and are expected to be banned for two transfer windows, with the same punishment probable for their city rivals. With Valencia and Villarreal under scrutiny too, it looks like an epidemic of rule-breaking in Spain – so much so that AS says the Spanish FA recently met with FIFA president Sepp Blatter to appeal for a “general amnesty”. Nice argument: hey, so many of us have broken the rules, maybe we should just forget about it this one time, eh?
Aside from the rule-breaking aspect, there are moral and ethical considerations. Of course, these kids are being offered an incredible, life-changing opportunity of a magnitude that may not be available to them in their home countries. But most of them won’t make it, and is it right to send youngsters to live thousands of miles from home – or uproot families to join them – for a venture with a low statistical probability of success?
Should kids really be swallowed up whole by any kind of “system”? Can’t soccer’s machinery wait just a little while longer? In such a competitive global marketplace, with clubs vying to find youngsters before they’ve even hit puberty, probably not.
We could also ask whether stopping teams from buying famous adults is the right punishment for infractions involving the signing of unknown children.
Don’t worry about this summer, though: Real Madrid has already denied that such reports include any kernels of truth. The club says the reports are “completely false” and “intended to cause harm”, which we might interpret as “everyone else is just jealous.”
And if the reports do turn out to have merit, no doubt if punished the clubs will launch appeals allowing them to suspend the bans until at least January. And that could mean El Real is busier than ever in the coming window, in the knowledge that its next signings could be the last for a while.