- Associated Press - Friday, April 4, 2014

MADRID (AP) - FIFA’s decision to slap Barcelona with a transfer ban is a clear message to Europe’s top clubs to follow the rules when signing international youth players.

The governing body of world soccer banned the Spanish champions from any activity in the next two transfer windows for breaching international regulations in signing up to 10 youth players.

Spanish sports lawyers contacted by The Associated Press on Friday said it was a complex case in which Barcelona’s chances of prevailing on appeal were slim, and the message may already have been sent.

“This is a very difficult case and it’s going to be very complicated for Barcelona to win it,” Jose Lasa Azpeitia of Laffer Abogados said. “FIFA is showing it’s not afraid to go after you regardless of how big an institution you are.”

Barcelona labeled itself a “victim of a grave injustice” and has staunchly proclaimed it will defend its La Masia youth system, which has produced such players as Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi Hernandez.

Rodrigo Arias Grillo of Sportia Law called the ban a “landmark case” in dealing with international regulations for youth player movement.

“The situation is very serious. It’s a knock on the door for clubs that have sports model infrastructures that deal with youth. The message is that no one is beyond their regulations,” Arias Grillo told the AP.

“It touches on the grass roots of high-profile clubs, which is very interesting. The impact of this will be seen in the way elite teams manage their grass roots development and associations with other countries.”

The two lawyers agree that Barcelona’s hopes of reversing the ban are slim, although Lasa Azpeitia pointed to a case involving French club Bordeaux that could provide precedent.

The Court for Arbitration of Sport sided with Bordeaux after FIFA denied the license of Argentine teenager Valentin Vada, who held an Italian passport but was never registered with the Italian federation when he moved from South America to France. It took two years for Vada to officially join Bordeaux, in January 2013.

“To have general rules is not necessarily good - every case can be evaluated by different circumstances,” Arias said. “You can have a general system for regulating international transfers, but each situation, on a case-by-case basis, has to be well-examined.”

Barcelona has been marred by off-field problems since it signed Brazil striker Neymar last year. Neymar’s transfer led to president Sandro Rosell’s resignation, tax fraud charges against the club and a payoff of more than $18.6 million to Spanish tax authorities.

Barcelona’s response to the charges - which could hamper planning for next season when it needs a new goalkeeper and defender - makes sense, guilty or not.

“Everyone is acting how they need to. They are defending La Masia, which is their model,” Lasa Azpeitia said. “Barca is protecting the kids, educating them and not exploiting them. This is the model they are famous for.”


Follow Paul Logothetis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAP

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