Just hours after Chelsea FC’s win in the Europa league earned its under-fire ex-banker coach Maurizio Sarri some breathing space, the club owned by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich was handed another blow: A ban on signing new players.
The English team will not be allowed to register new squad members during the next two transfer windows, international soccer body FIFA said in a statement Friday, citing breaches of Article 19 of regulations related to the club’s recruitment of youth players. Chelsea said it “categorically refutes” FIFA’s findings and will appeal the decision.
The news is particularly untimely as the team languishes in sixth place in the Premier League, 15 points behind pace-setters Manchester City FC and Liverpool FC. Bookmakers have slashed odds on Sarri to be sacked following defeats to both City and their local neighbors Manchester United over the past two weeks.
Abramovich has been pictured at far fewer Chelsea matches than usual this season. Reported visa issues last year, as relations between London and Moscow soured, led to speculation that the 52-year-old was considering selling the club he bought in 2003.
As for the players, commentators had suggested a complete overhaul of the Chelsea squad would be needed in the summer, should the five-time Premier League champions wish to return to their former glory. That could still be a possibility, according to one lawyer:
“If Chelsea appeal, this is a seven to eight month process, based on Barcelona’s experience. So Chelsea would almost certainly be able to conduct business in the summer,” said Jake Cohen, who has worked on a number of cases in FIFA’s court of arbitration.
If the ban is upheld, what does it mean for the current Chelsea line up? Superstar midfielder Eden Hazard has been the subject of intense media speculation over a
Meanwhile, if Sarri leaves, there are questions over how the ban could impact the club’s recruitment process of a top coach. Former Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane remains the favorite, according to bookmaker William Hill.
While Sarri oversaw a victory against Sweden’s Malmo FF in Europe’s second-tier tournament on Thursday, he faces much tougher tests against Manchester City in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday, and again in the league against title-chasing Tottenham Hotspur FC on Wednesday. U.K. newspapers suggest the Italian’s future could be decided over the next week.
Chelsea has also been fined 600,000 Swiss francs ($600,000) and given a period of 90 days to “regularize the situation of the minor players concerned,” FIFA said in the statement. The English Football Association was also found to have breached rules in connection with youth players, and was fined 510,000 Swiss francs.
An FA spokesman said on Twitter that the body had cooperated fully with FIFA’s investigations, although it “raised some concerns” with FIFA regarding its disciplinary processes. The FA also intends to appeal the decision, it said.