Barça, Real Madrid, Atleti, FIFA and the lottery of young lives

I was happy to see Barça president Bartomeu say in public that he thought the FIFA sanctions on Madrid and Atlético for signing underage players were unfair. I don’t remember the same solidarity being shown to Barcelona when this happened to them. Still, while I praise the gesture, I’m not sure I completely agree; nor do I entirely agree with La Liga president Javier Tebas, though I do respect his position. This trafficking in football children began about three decades ago, it’s much worse now andSpain has become the Mecca in the affair. While it’s understood that the canteras – the youth systems – of Barcelona, Real Madrid or Atlético are fine destinations for promising young talent, there must be some rules and protections for vulnerable young children, and these apply to everyone.

Of course, the inclusion of Zidane’s children has discredited the process; perhaps that is the result of not changing their official residence from France to Spain, a mistake if so. Who knows? Real Madrid are as opaque in this issue as they are in all others. FIFA’s own farrago of corruption and mismanagement does little to inspire confidence in their edifying intentions, but it seems important to me to separate these issues and treat them individually. There has been plenty of shady dealings and bald-faced burglary at FIFA, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t got it right in certain issues.

Plenty of kids from impoverished places have made the pilgrimage to wealthy Europe, some have made it as professional footballers, the vast majority haven’t. Those who didn’t make it have suffered social and cultural uprooting, abandonment and isolation. Things got so bad that FIFA had to step in and regulate, with universal rules that were the same for Barça, Real Madrid Atletico Madrid - with their world-class academies - and everyone else. Rules are rules, and though FIFA could define the specifics better, they must be followed. Summoning children from the four corners of the planet in the improbable search for the next Messi is playing the lottery with young people’s lives and does not sound good to me at all.