LONDON • Chelsea have been banned from the transfer market for two windows, after Fifa found them guilty of a serious and systemic breach of the rules regarding their dealings with foreign players under the age of 18.
The governing body announced the sanction yesterday at the end of an investigation into the club and how they registered players at their academy over several years.
The Guardian revealed last month that Fifa had looked into more than 100 player cases at Chelsea. Fifa said that the club had been found guilty of 29 breaches of Article 19 - the most serious infringements relating to the registration of minors and several others.
Chelsea have been fined 600,000 Swiss francs (S$811,000) and given 90 days to "regularise the situation of the minor players concerned", which could involve them being forced to move on anyone brought to the club in contravention of the regulations.
In a statement yesterday, Chelsea said: "Chelsea FC categorically refutes the findings of the Fifa Disciplinary Committee and will therefore be appealing the decision."
It is possible they could delay their punishment until after this summer's window via appeals, which can be time-consuming, meaning they would be free to make signings between the beginning of June and the end of August.
But the news is a blow for Chelsea at a time when the manager Maurizio Sarri is clinging to his job, having lost the confidence of the Stamford Bridge crowd.
Eden Hazard, the club's star, has suggested that he fancies a summer move to Real Madrid while David Luiz, Willian, Pedro and Callum Hudson-Odoi are among the others who may not be at Stamford Bridge next season.
Fifa's basic rule is that clubs cannot bring in players under 18 from other countries, unless their parents have emigrated for reasons not connected to football or both the player and club are based within 50km of a national border.
Chelsea contended that the majority of the 100-plus player cases involved short-term triallists at their academy, who did not go on to sign for them.
They argued there is no law against trialling Under-18 international players and, as such, they believed these cases ought not to have been included in the final judgment.
Fifa has in the past brought successful prosecutions against Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid for infringements related to the signing of minors and its pursuit of these cases springs from a determination to help protect children from potential exploitation and trafficking.
The Spanish clubs were given a two-window ban, although Real served only one after a successful appeal to CAS.
In the January window, Chelsea signed Christian Pulisic and loaned the £58 million (S$102 million) player back to Borussia Dortmund until he joins them in the summer.
They also took Gonzalo Higuain on loan from Juventus until the end of the season, with options to extend the loan or sign him permanently.
The club denied that the moves were in reaction to the threat of a transfer ban.
On the field, there were at least some positives after a 3-0 Europa League win over Malmo on Thursday put Chelsea into the last 16 with a 5-1 aggregate. They will next meet Ukraine's Dynamo Kiev.
The Blues will next take on Manchester City in the League Cup final at Wembley tomorrow.
Arsenal overcame a 1-0 deficit to also move into the last 16 with a 3-1 aggregate win over Bate Borisov. Their next opponents are French club Rennes.
THE GUARDIAN, REUTERS