Youth in Revolt: How Spain’s Cantera problem has the rest of Europe watching intently

In Footy Culture, Front Page, The Breakdown by Andre SherardLeave a Comment

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Youth Academies are the life’s blood of most clubs around the world. It gives supporters tremendous pride to see one of theirs make it through the ranks into the senior set-up. In addition, it’s a great recruiting tool to bring in talented foreign players, who see it as a dream of playing for a club like Real Madrid or Barcelona.

Unfortunately, a flashlight has been shined onto Spanish Football, due to anonymous snitches…I mean “tipsters”, who have brought FIFA’s attention to the fact that some of these La Liga clubs have been signing young foreign players through illegal means. Barcelona were the first who caught trouble with FIFA when it was found that they used “La Masia” to bring in foreign players under 16 without the minimum FIFA standards. As a result, they were infamously banned from making any transfers to bring players into the club for a full two transfer windows.

This Barca saga might be the tip of the iceberg as Real Madrid have been called upon by FIFA to explain the case of two Venezuelan youngsters who were brought into the country by Miguel Angel Coira, an Argentine ex-footballer who has a school in Madrid. Los Blancos are cooperating with the world footballing governing body and we will see what comes of it.

However, it brings into light a growing trend within Spanish “canteras”: bringing in foreign kids is not the exception but more the norm. In their cantera, Atlético Madrid has a total of 43 kids from 26 countries, 21 of those being under 16. Elche has 30 kids from 20 countries. And you can go down the list and see almost every club in the Primera has a foreigner in their cantera except for tiny little Eibar in Basque country. Overall, Spain is the country with the overseas kids in their youth system, with a whopping 352 youngsters total (La Liga clubs facing FIFA punishment)

Bringing in foreign kids in general is not illegal but there are several guidelines in which you can bring in a player who is not local to the club. “The player’s parents have moved country for their own non-related reasons; the move takes place within the European Union if a player is aged between 16 and 18; or the player’s home is less than 50 kilometres from the national border being crossed.”

How are they circumventing these rules? or at minimum, not getting caught breaking the rules.The latter does not provide a complex answer as the wild west style of LFP, who makes and breaks rules how they go, could have turned a blind eye to all these young kids from abroad filling up the peninsula. And the explanation given for an exceptional talent was a good enough one for them.

Most clubs have lawyers or owned by those in the law field that can find loopholes to circumvent the rules. They can create these loosely funded academies in other countries which has their name in the title but it is only breeding grounds for kids. Even more sinster than that, third-party groups who are chummy with the brass at clubs pimp these kids out, as seems to be the case at Real Madrid with the two Venezuelans. If the club is smart enough, they figure out a way to bring the kid’s parents into the country through giving them a job with one of their board members’ outside businesses. Otherwise, they will just take the kids on and hope the ignorance that runs rampant across LFP will allow it.

The Real Madrid case is a crucial one in terms of what happens with the rest of Spanish Football. If FIFA comes down hard on Spain’s two big clubs, there is no telling what they will do with the rest of the league. Most of these clubs are in huge debt and dealing with a transfer ban of any sort could break teams and send them into a downward spiral.

The rest of Europe is keeping a close eye on what’s going on in Spain and making sure that their books are “clean”, or at least clean enough to scrape by. Based on the events transpiring on the Iberian Peninsula, it could be soon that they have big bad FIFA knocking on their doorsteps.

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Andre Sherard