Two giants of Spanish football, Real and Atlético Madrid, have both lost appeals against transfer-bans handed to them by FIFA in January. The decisions mean that neither club will be able to register new players in the next two transfer windows, the next opportunity being the January 2018 transfer window.
The punishment comes as a result of transfer breaches relating to the transfer of foreign players under the age of 18. The same reason that Barcelona were hit with a similar ban in 2014. FIFA rules state that players under the age of 18 can only be transferred abroad if:
- The player’s parents move to the country of the club for non-footballing reasons
- Both clubs are in the EU and the player is aged between 16 and 18, even then a series of education and support criteria that have to be met
- They live within 100km of the club
Both teams were given their bans in January but courtesy of their appeals they were allowed to sign players in the summer while a verdict was being reached. However, they now face the realistic prospect of being unable to register new players until 2018. Both clubs have stated their intentions to take their cases to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), Real described the verdict as “deeply unjust and contrary to the fundamental principles of disciplinary law,” while Atlético say they have hired “a team of international experts to defend the case and protect the rights of the club.” Yet, given Barcelona’s inability to swerve the ban it appears highly unlikely that for the same offence either of these two clubs will be able to avoid it. If the ban is upheld Atlético Madrid will also have to pay a fine of £622,000 while Real will have to pay £249,000.
The news comes as a hammer blow to the two clubs as they look to break the dominance of Barcelona, who have won the last two La Liga and Copa del Rey titles. With Barcelona signing reinforcements in the form of Jasper Cillessen, Denis Suárez, Samuel Umtiti, Lucas Digne, André Gomes and Paco Alcácer they have added much-needed strength-in-depth. Do Real and Atlético have the strength-in-depth that will last two seasons?
Barcelona were wise and invested heavily the summer before their ban took place by signing Marc-André ter Stegen, Claudio Bravo, Jérémy Mathieu, Thomas Vermaelen, Ivan Rakititić and Luis Suárez. Now let’s take a look at how Real and Atlético have dealt with the news and how the ban could affect them.
Real Madrid were unusually quiet this summer, their only major signing was the decision to activate their buy-back clause and re-sign Álvaro Morata from Juventus for €30m. Many suspect that big money contract renewals for Luka Modrić, Toni Kroos and Gareth Bale amongst others was the reason for this. Perhaps an arrogance that the ban would surely be overturned also contributed to the lack of signings but what is for sure now is the knock-on effect the ban will have on their future transfer policy.
Real are still permitted to sell players but with no option to bring in replacements, high-profile sales are unlikely. This stops dead all rumours about Cristiano Ronaldo potentially being sold at the end of this season. His class is not in doubt but with him now 31-years-old, questions are inevitably being asked about how much longer he will be at Madrid and where his next move will be, clubs such as PSG and Manchester United have been linked. With his contract set to run out in 2018, there is little doubt now that he will be offered a new one as without a replacement there is no way Club President Florentino Pérez will allow one of the best players in the world to leave the club. Real’s well-documented admiration of Robert Lewandowski as a potential replacement will also have to go on hold for at least one more year.
Another deal that has been put on-hold is the David de Gea deal. It feels as if we’ve been talking about this deal forever now, in fact this deal was just minutes from completion last summer but late paperwork scuppered that and Keylor Navas’s move to Manchester United. Navas is undoubtedly the big winner in all of this, the Costa Rican knows that his number 1 jersey is safe for at least another season and a half. Real Madrid will have to waitat leastt one more year to get their man. Will 2018 finally be the year we see this deal done?
Even more disappointing to the club may well be the potential damage to its image. To Real Madrid this is everything, when Pérez took over the age of the ‘Galácticos’ was born. The club often sell palyers that do not fit this image and have in the past been accused of signing players just for effect. One such player is James Rodríguez, who the club signed from Monaco in 2014 for approximately €80m. Since joining, he has failed to nail down a starting place under any manager and as such many fans have chose to criticise the move, calling it a publicity stunt to divert attention away from Barcelona’s signing of Luis Suárez. One thing is for sure, James needs to make the most of this ban to force his way into the side. If not, expect to see a replacement brought in 2018 and James to be shipped out. With Chelsea and West Ham rumoured to be interested this summer, don’t be surpirsed if we see him in the Premier League in the not too distant future.
Having said all of this, I’m sure the man sweating most at this announcment is manager Zinedine Zidane. Being Real Madrid manager is not the most secure job in the world, just ask Rafa Benítez, Carlo Ancelotti and even José Mourinho. Zidane has at his disposal a squad that any manager would envy but if they were to pick up a few injuries and suspensions during the season the squad could be stretched. If that happens and results take a dip, Zidane could well find himself becoming the latest managerial casualty at the Bernabéu.
Atlético decided to deal with the potential ban in a much more pragmatic way. They had a busy summer and spent big on some key signings. They signed Fernando Torres on a free transfer followed by Šime Vrsaljko for €16m, Nicolás Gaitán for €25m, Kévin Gameiro for €32m and wonder-kid Diogo Jota from Paços de Ferreira for €7.2m. Atlético have never been able to compete with Real and Barcelona in the money stakes and realistically they shop in a different market to them, so this ban man not have such a damaging affect on them as Real Madrid. Atlético rely much more on hard-work, tactics and team spirit to take the challenge to Spain’s top two clubs.
The bad news for Atlético is that it is not a complete transfer ban, selling players is still allowed. This could be a huge problem for them, as a club they haven’t in the past been able to hang onto their best players. They lost Fernando Torres to Liverpool in 2007 and in more recent times, even the season after their famous titile win in 2014, they still lost stars Diego Costa and Felipe Luís to Chelsea. The danger for Atlético is that if they can not keep up the fight with Real and Barcelona and they do not go as far in the Champions League as previous years they could lose some of their best players and with no way to immediately replace them that could have disastorous consequences for the club.
The club could also be hit by the fact that they have an ageing squad. Although Diego Simeone insists that the club’s plans won’t be affected, he surely would have liked to start introducing some fresh young players into his squad in the coming windows. Atlético have an experienced core but while experience is key, the best teams always have a blend of youth and expereince, with pace being more important in the game than it has ever been. Atlético have defenders Filipe Luís (31), Juanfran (31), Gabi (33), Diego Godín (30) midfielders, Augusto Fernández (30), Tiago (35) and forwards Fernando Torres (32) and Kévin Gameiro (29) who are all heading to or are the wrong side of 30. While they may not need to be replaced right away, Simeone would undoubtedly want to be introducuing younger under-studies to challenge and eventually take the places of these players. With the ban this becomes impossible and the club will have to rely alot on their own academy. If as expected, Atlético progress far in all competitions, the players could face the serious threat of burnout towards the end of the season.
On a more positive note, having a settled squad could work out to be a positive for Atlético. Diego Simeone’s men play a much more defensive style of football than most of Europe’s top clubs. They rely on remaining solid in defence and then using the pace of players such as Antoine Griezmann and Yannick Ferreria Cassrasco to hit teams on the break. This tactic has made them very hard to play against, particularly in the Champions League. Adopiting such a style relies on every player knowing their role and focusing for the whole 90 minutes. If you select a consistent XI then the chemistry will improve and the team will be more likely to perform well as too many changes can sometimes disrupt a team’s momentum. Simeone will have to work hard to adopt a poliy of managed rotation so his players don’t get burntout but if he does this successfully then Atlético could still have a good season.
It looks as if it’s going to be an interesting couple of years in Spanish football, Barcelona were already going into the new season as faviourites and the transfer bans for Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid certainly only strength their odds. It will be incredibly difficult for anyone to break their domination of Spanish football but Atlético have shocked us before and you can never rule out Real. It will be interesting to see who can deal with this ban the better and if either one was able to beat Barcelona to the league title in the next two seasons it would be one of their finest ever achievements.