Real Madrid and neighbours Atletico Madrid have been banned by FIFA from registering players for two transfer windows for breaching rules on signing non-Spanish under-18 players, including coach Zinedine Zidane’s four sons at Real.
The sanction announced on Thursday means the clubs, currently third and first respectively in Spain’s top division, will not be able to register new signings until July 2017 once the present transfer window closes at the end of the month.
Real, the world’s richest club by income, denied wrongdoing and confirmed they would appeal, with director general Jose Angel Sanchez calling the ban “absurd”.
Zidane’s sons Enzo, Luca, Theo and Elyaz, who play in Real’s youth ranks and have been living in the Spanish capital for years, were among those identified in FIFA’s investigation, Sanchez told reporters.
Atletico president Enrique Cerezo told Spanish radio station Cadena Ser that they would also contest the verdict.
“It’s a great injustice and not being able to sign players is a problem but our squad is sufficient,” he said.
Real’s great rivals Barcelona, standing second in La Liga, were handed a similar penalty in April 2014 for breaking the same set of regulations that prevent the registration of minors in any country other than their own, except in specific circumstances.
However, Barca’s ban was not announced during a transfer window, meaning they were unable to make quick adjustments to their squad as Real and Atletico can over the next two and a half weeks.
Real, with new coach Zidane just over a week into the job, are unlikely to offload players but could use their considerable financial muscle to bolster their ranks.
At Atletico, forwards Fernando Torres and Jackson Martinez could leave and be replaced having failed to settle into the team this season.
Barcelona took their appeal to CAS, where it was rejected, and the ban eventually finished with the start of the current window, which runs until the end of January.
The Spanish and European champions bought Arda Turan from Atletico and Aleix Vidal from Sevilla in July but they were unable to play until the turn of the year, although still allowed to train with their new team mates.
World soccer’s governing body FIFA said on Thursday its rules were designed to protect minors who move to other countries and prevent soccer clubs from exploiting them.
It noted that the need for the strict application of these rules had been “confirmed on various occasions” by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).
“Opening up the door to exceptions beyond those carefully drafted and included in the regulations would unavoidably lead to cases of circumvention of the rationale for these provisions,” FIFA said.
Atletico were fined 900,000 Swiss francs ($900,000) and record 10-times European champions Real 360,000 francs, FIFA added.
The two clubs were given 90 days to regularise their situation but can continue to sell players during the ban.
FIFA said that “the two clubs were found to have violated several provisions concerning the international transfer and first registration of minor players.”
The probe concerned players who participated in competitions with the clubs between 2007 and 2014 in the case of Atletico, and between 2005 and 2014 in the case of Real Madrid.
“FIFA works hard to protect the rights of players under the age of 18 — whether male or female, amateur or professional,” it said in a statement.
“This is done through the enforcement of regulations prohibiting the international transfer of minors, or the first registration of minors in a country other than their own, except in specific circumstances.”
The next two transfer windows are July/August 2016 and January 2017.