Barcelona fought back to secure a 1-1 draw with Atletico Madrid in the Champions League on Tuesday night—but then awoke to bad news on Wednesday after being handed a transfer ban by FIFA.
As per FIFA's official website, Barcelona have been handed a 14-month ban, which will mean no transfers over the next two windows as well as a large fine. No incoming or outgoing transfers will be able to be completed in that timeframe. The ban relates to youth players within the club's sides below first-team level, though specific details are still emerging at this point.
The transfer ban leaves some serious questions to be answered by the Barcelona board, of course, but the first team will have pressing issues to attend to as well.
Done Deals and Retaining Seniors?
It's not uncommon for top teams to work on completing deals during the season, leaving only final signatures and registrations to be finalised once the transfer window is open during the summer. It is unclear at this stage whether such deals will be covered by the ban or whether indeed any are ready to be completed.
Young Croatian playmaker Alen Halilovic has been reported, as per Goal.com, to have finalised his move to Barcelona in the summer. Will this deal be covered by the ban? Or is it exempt as it was seemingly completed beforehand, even though registration does not take place until during the ban?
The same goes for goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, confirmed by nobody yet seemingly known by everybody.
Should these deals no longer be able to be confirmed, it leaves Barcelona in a real mess for planning next season, particularly with regard to goalkeepers.
Jose Manuel Pinto is 38 years old, steady as an understudy but far from superb, especially with the ball at his feet. First-choice goalkeeper Victor Valdes is out of contract and set for a move away on a free transfer—but even if they could convince him to delay for one year longer, he is set to be sidelined until around October with a cruciate knee ligament injury.
Carles Puyol is also set to depart unless they deem it necessary to also ask the aging, injury-riddled defender to sign an extension.
Loan Recalls an Option to Boost Squad
Barcelona have long been seen as one of the premier clubs for promoting youth development, although questions may now be asked on whether that is being done in a completely lawful way of course.
The past few years have seen fewer new first-teamers break through, though, on account of those who came beforehand—Andres Iniesta, Pedro, Sergio Busquets et al—being some of the best in the game in their respective positions.
They lost Thiago Alcantara to Bayern Munich as a result of not enough game time, but others remain out on loan who could be utilised next season as squad options if no incoming transfers are allowed.
Gerard Deulofeu is impressing at Everton and should have a future with his parent club, while Rafinha has been at Celta Vigo in La Liga this term. Both are good enough to have a role to play at times next season, though it is likely another loan spell for each would be of more benefit in a best-case scenario.
Overturning the Ban
Barcelona aren't the only club to be given a transfer ban of late.
Premier League side Chelsea were handed a similar punishment at the start of the decade, one which was later overturned.
REMINDER: Chelsea were hit with a two-window transfer ban by FIFA in 2010, but won appeal at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.— Eurosport.com EN (@EurosportCom_EN) April 2, 2014
However, French Ligue 1 side Nantes were not so lucky in their appeal—though comparisons are difficult, as the situations are not the same.
French side Nantes can't sign any players until summer 2015 after losing an appeal against a transfer ban imposed by Fifa #FCNantes— InsideWorldFootball (@insidewldftball) March 7, 2014
Barcelona will doubtless fight the ban. As per BBC Sport, they have been:
...told to "regularise its regulatory framework and existing system concerning the international transfer of minors in football" within a year. A Fifa investigation found that Barcelona and the RFEF were guilty of a "serious" infringement of the rules in relation to 10 players. The investigation centred on several players aged under 18 who were registered and played for the club between 2009 and 2013.
Can Barcelona's squad challenge for titles next season if it cannot sign anybody in the summer?
Given they have been handed a period of time in which to regulate underlying problems with their international youth transfers, it is possible they may put forward a proposal in far quicker time, outlining improvements to their internal systems and understanding where they went wrong, as a means to showcase their acceptance of the situation and ask favour to reduce or remove the ban.
Without the possibility to sign further players, Barcelona will still have a strong and successful squad in place, but they will also be mindful of the need to continually update and improve.
An appeal may extend the time before the ban starts, giving them room to manoeuvre this summer, but their problems with signing young players for the future may well hinder their ability to compete in the present regardless.