Given that Real Madrid and Atlético de Madrid have just been punished for irregular signings of underage players (just as Barcelona was not so long ago), I was wondering what kind of restrictions there are on underage players going pro.

Especially in Europe and South America, it is not uncommon for great players to establish themselves as first-team regular starters before turning 18, or in some cases even 17. For example, Agüero started playing for Independiente at 15, and by the time he was 17, he was one of the key players of the team. See also Muniain with Athletic Bilbao, Bojan and Messi with Barcelona, Donnarumma with Milan, C. Ronaldo with Sporting, etc, all of which went pro before turning 18.

So, how do these contracts work? Is the money these players earn put in a fund and made available to them when they become of age? Can other clubs pay a transfer for them?

  • Are you interested in answers from the point of view of employment law, or from FIFA/UEFA/etc regulations? The former would probably be a better fit on law.SE rather than here, although you'd probsbly have to be more specific about which countries you're interested in as this is national legislation. – Philip Kendall Jan 14 '16 at 19:21
  • Why would they put money in a fund instead of paying them instantly? By law, afaik & in Belgium, there's no difference between a student working at a grocery store between 16-18 and being paid and being a paid football player between 16-18. – Don_Biglia Jan 15 '16 at 8:22

Regarding FIFA's official transfer laws, international transfer of minors is not allowed if the player is under the age of 18 (which is the definition of a minor). There are 3 exceptions, as explained in Article 19 of FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players (pages 17 and 18):

Article 19: Protection of minors

1. International transfers of players are only permitted if the player is over the age of 18.

2. The following three exceptions to this rule apply:

a) The player’s parents move to the country in which the new club is located for reasons not linked to football;

b) The transfer takes place within the territory of the European Union (EU) or European Economic Area (EEA) and the player is aged between 16 and 18. In this case, the new club must fulfil the following minimum obligations:

i) It shall provide the player with an adequate football education and/or training in line with the highest national standards.

ii) It shall guarantee the player an academic and/or school and/or vocational education and/or training, in addition to his football education and/or training, which will allow the player to pursue a career other than football should he cease playing professional football.

iii) It shall make all necessary arrangements to ensure that the player is looked after in the best possible way (optimum living standards with a host family or in club accommodation, appointment of a mentor at the club, etc.).

iv) It shall, on registration of such a player, provide the relevant association with proof that it is complying with the aforementioned obligations;

c) The player lives no further than 50km from a national border and the club with which the player wishes to be registered in the neighbouring association is also within 50km of that border. The maximum distance between the player’s domicile and the club’s headquarters shall be 100km. In such cases, the player must continue to live at home and the two associations concerned must give their explicit consent.

3. The conditions of this article shall also apply to any player who has never previously been registered with a club and is not a national of the country in which he wishes to be registered for the first time.

4. Each association shall ensure the respect of this provision by its clubs.

5. The Players’ Status Committee shall be competent to decide on any dispute arising in relation to these matters and shall impose appropriate sanctions in the event of violations of this provision.

In the case of Aguero, Cristiano Ronaldo, Bojan and Muniain, yes, they turned pro as minors, but there was no problem with FIFA because they all were signed by and played for clubs in the countries they were residing in. FIFA only regulates the transfer of minors to countries outside their domicile. In the case of Messi, Barcelona agreed to relocate his entire family from Argentina to Spain, thus staying within the regulations. As to how the players were paid when they were minors, that would depend on the laws for employment of minors in the respective countries.

In the case of the transfer bans handed to Atletico de Madrid, Real Madrid (and previously Barcelona), the clubs were found guilty of breaching the aforementioned transfer regulations by FIFA. Atletico and Real can appeal the bans with FIFA (and then with Court of Arbitration for Sport, if the previous appeal is turned down).

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