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Barcelona to Appeal Trades Ban for Hiring Minors Like Messi

Spanish soccer champion Barcelona will appeal a ban on trading players for bringing foreign athletes younger than 18 to the academy that trained four-time player of the year Lionel Messi.

Barcelona was also fined 450,000 Swiss francs ($509,000) for the offenses involving 10 minors, soccer’s Zurich-based ruling body FIFA said yesterday in an e-mailed statement. Spain’s soccer federation, which authorized the registration of foreign minors, was fined 500,000 Swiss francs.

The player transfer ban applies to the next two trading periods and may set back Barcelona next season, with goalkeeper Victor Valdes, 32, planning to leave and central defender Carles Puyol, 35, saying he will stop playing. Barcelona said it will ask FIFA not to implement the ban until after the club appeals against the punishment.

Barcelona “will be presenting the corresponding appeal to FIFA and, should it be necessary, take the resulting resolution to the Court of Arbitration for Sport,” the club said in an e-mailed statement.

Under FIFA rules, soccer clubs can only field minors from another continent if their parents are living in the same country for reasons not linked to soccer. In February 2013, Barcelona said FIFA ordered it to stop fielding six foreign players under the age of 18.

Masia Model

South Korea’s Lee Seung Woo, then 15, and Cameroon’s Patrice Sousia, then in an under-13 category, were among the six who stopped playing, a club official said at the time. The six were at Barcelona’s La Masia, or Farmhouse, school, which provides education and full board along with soccer coaching, the official said.

“The Masia model incorporates academic training, providing residence and pastoral care, as well as health care specifically for underage needs and sports development,” Barcelona said in its statement yesterday. “FCB puts creating rounded people ahead of creating sports people, something which has not been taken into consideration by FIFA, which has applied sanctions criteria that ignores the nature of our training program.”

Barcelona’s infraction happened between 2009 and 2013, FIFA said. Its disciplinary committee found that “the interest in protecting the appropriate and healthy development of a minor as a whole must prevail over purely sporting interests,” according to the statement yesterday.

90 Days

The team has 90 days to regularize its situation, and the Spanish federation led by FIFA Vice President Angel Maria Villar was given a year to change how it handles the transfer of minors, the ruling body said.

A federation spokesman referred a call for comment to its legal department, and a call there wasn’t answered.

About one-third of the 72 children at the Barcelona academy are from outside Spain. The school developed Argentina’s Messi among other players who helped Barcelona win three of its four Champions League titles since 2006.

Messi moved to Barcelona from Argentina at age 13. Barcelona paid his metal-worker father a salary of $50,000 for a job with the youth team under the arrangement, Spain’s El Pais newspaper reported in 2009.

In February, a judge at Spain’s National Court opened a formal investigation into whether Barcelona committed financial irregularities in hiring 22-year-old Brazilian playmaker Neymar from Santos last year.

Sandro Rosell quit as the team’s president over the affair in January.

Barcelona said on Feb. 24 that it paid 13.6 million euros ($18.8 million) to Spanish tax authorities to cover a possible shortfall from the Neymar transfer, although it said it remained convinced it hadn’t acted illegally.

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