FIFA tighten transfer rules with new system

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ZURICH - The Central American football director looked surprised when he was told that, to sell a player abroad, the transfer fee had to be paid into a bank account.

"Why would I need a bank account?" he asked. "I can put the money into this steel box."

The encounter, as related by a FIFA official, was one of many with Latin American football directors.

Now football's world governing body is implementing a new electronic transfer system which they say will crack down on money laundering and third-party ownership of players.

Traditionally, international transfers have been carried out by faxes between the national associations involved - a system which FIFA say has been open to all kinds of abuse.

"Until now, transfers have been handled on paper, the way it was 100 years ago," said Mark Goddard, general manager of the Transfer Matching System (TMS), as the new method is known. "It was impossible to keep track of what was going on."

"We've had imaginary transfers of players who didn't exist, players who have been made up, all this has been basically going on. It was pretty much standard business practice."

Goddard said that under TMS, FIFA will be able to keep a much closer watch on the international transfer market.

To complete a transfer, both the buying and selling clubs must enter a number of details into the web-based system, including the transfer fee, the player's salary, the agent or lawyer involved and the length of the contract.

The money must be transferred from and to a bank account.

"It's one of the most thorough projects FIFA has ever had. It changes the transfer market completely," said Goddard.

"It does not materially change the regulations but...it is an effective way of making sure rules are being enforced."

THIRD PARTIES

One of the biggest changes will be to prevent third parties - such as companies, agents or pension funds - from owning players, a practice especially common in South America.

Third-party ownership came to prominence when West Ham United bought Argentina forward Carlos Tevez, who had previously been playing at Corinthians.

West Ham were fined 5.5 million pounds in April 2007 when the Premier League ruled they had broken the rules after it emerged that Tevez's transfer rights were partly owned by a private company.

However the club escaped a points deduction and Tevez scored the winning goal as they beat Manchester United 1-0 on the final day of the season to escape relegation.

Sheffield United, who went down in their place, launched a claim for damages against West Ham, with the two clubs later reaching an out-of-court settlement.

"It is clearly in the regulations that no third parties can be involved in the ownership of football players," said Goddard. "Everything which has existed until now will disappear.

"It is not possible to enter a transfer between a club and a company, for example."

Another rule is that football academies - which have sprouted in Africa, often run by European clubs or companies - will have to field teams in local amateur or professional competitions before they can sell players.

FIFA believe the new system will also end disputes over whether clubs have been paid or not for a player and over whether a deal was completed before transfer window deadlines.

"Clubs will not be able to argue if the evidence is all there in the system," Goddard said.

"We are aware that clubs love to leave things to the last minute and love to play chicken with each other. But if a transfer is not completed by the deadline, then they're going to have to go to the Players' Status committee and explain why."

SEVEN MINUTES

So far, 144 national associations and 2,010 clubs participate in the system, which is due to be fully implemented by October. Seminars have been held to instruct clubs on using the system, and reaction has varied widely.

"The German clubs actually wanted to speed up the whole process," said Goddard. "We've also had enquiries from national associations who are interested in using the system for domestic transfers.

"Two clubs in England and Scotland were able to complete a transfer in the system and receive clearance in seven minutes. The player was able to make his debut the same afternoon."

On the other hand, FIFA officials were given a difficult reception when they visited Brazil.

FIFA officials said the clubs had all lined up their legal officials, who had learned the FIFA statutes off by heart and picked holes in the TMS.

"It is clear what was going on in South America. It was a long and robust discussion," said Goddard.

"We told them that these were the rules and, if they wanted to sell players abroad, they had to adapt."

One of the big questions is how well the new system can be enforced, as it is up to the clubs to correctly enter the information into the system.

"TMS will be developing processes to check that clubs are disclosing the correct information and if they do not they will be referred to the discipline committee," said Goddard.

"The obligation is to tell the truth and the consequences of not doing so will be substantial for clubs who are caught doing it."