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Atlético facing punishment from FIFA over underage signings - maybe

Along with neighbors Real, Atlético Madrid will be punished over youth transfer irregularities. Or will they?

Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Early Friday morning, reports surfaced - most notably from Catalan newspaper Mundo Deportivo - that FIFA were not quite done punishing clubs for irregularities in youth signings and transfers. Friday is not the first time these reports have come to light; just last month, the president of the Catalan Football Federation insisted that transfer bans were on their way. In April, Cadena SER said that Atlético Madrid and Real Madrid would be banned for two transfer windows, and last November, MD claimed essentially the same thing they're claiming now: FIFA has made a decision to ban the Madrid clubs from making signings in 2016 due to violations of FIFA's youth transfer regulations. The alleged violations are of a similar nature to the violations committed by Barcelona between 2009 and 2013.

MD went one step further this time and apparently WROTE TO FIFA asking for swift and immediate action, as they can't come up with a reason *why* there hasn't been an announcement yet (couldn't be because FIFA is in a state of upheaval, surely). However, Madrid-based daily AS also published a report on what's going on. Why don't we check in there?

Joaquín Maroto states that the Disciplinary Committee decided on the matter in September, but in true FIFA "you couldn't make this stuff up" fashion, secretary Jerome Valcke was suspended before he could sign off on the sanctions. Maroto's report indicates that the decision will come down once the situation in Switzerland stabilizes - which might not be until February, when a new president is elected.

(That may be a silver lining, as I'll explain.)

Maroto continues by recounting FIFA's investigation into whether or not Atlético and Real adhered to Article 19 of the Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (here - it's a doozy). Article 19 in no uncertain terms states that international transfers of players under the age of 18 are prohibited - except in three cases;

  1. The player's parents move to the country for non-footballing reasons;
  2. The transfer of a 16-to 18-year-old occurs in the EU and the acquiring club provides for the player on and off the pitch; and
  3. The player lives no further than 50 km (31 miles) from a national border and the club is also within 50 km of said national border.

(Pretty strict.)

Maroto's article doesn't mention anything about a transfer ban for either club, or specify what Atlético did to trigger the alarms. Aside from a brief explanation offered on Football España last November, none of the sources has elucidated on Atleti's alleged transgressions.

Keep in mind that the more sensational report from this morning was published by MD - which, like the other big Barcelona-based newspaper, Sport - is known for its rather fervent support of Barcelona and its dedication to unsettling its rivals. The MD report should be acknowledged and noted, certainly, but my recommendation is to take it with the appropriate grain of salt.

What's most interesting/disconcerting about this situation is that no one appears to know for certain what the sanctions are or when they'll be handed out. As we know, reports of this nature have circulated for more than a year now. They have been published, discussed and subsequently faded, then brought back into focus. It's as if this is the theme song for MD (and others).

Let's suppose for a moment that the papers finally have it right, and Atlético will be punished for circumventing the rules. If FIFA wait until February to dish out a transfer ban, you *could* argue that that's not so bad. Atleti already have a deep squad with five starters under the age of 25 - Antoine Griezmann (24), Koke (23), Yannick Ferreira Carrasco (22), Jan Oblak (22) and José Giménez (20). Also, consider that Saúl Ñiguez, Óliver Torres and Luciano Vietto are all 21 years old and Ángel Correa is 20; all four players figure prominently in the club's future and all have made or are expected to make a case for regular inclusion in the starting XI. An older squad may need to scramble to secure replacements prior to a ban's installation, but it's a bit different at the Calderón.

What's more, Atlético's growing stature and improving finances have allowed them to withstand big-money offers from foreign powers and keep the core together. Under a transfer ban, it would be even more important to keep these players (like Griezmann, who has been linked endlessly with Chelsea). That likely will be Atleti's focus under this rumored transfer embargo.

That's it for now, but surely there will be more to come from this situation. Just give it a few weeks.

Or months.