LONDON (AP) — Barcelona will be barred from signing any players in 2015 after FIFA rejected the club's appeal against a one-year ban for breaching rules over the transfer of youngsters.
The Spanish giants will now ask sport's highest court to overturn the punishment, which resulted from the signing of 10 players under the age of 18 to the club's renowned La Masia academy. FIFA found the signings to have violated rules designed to prevent child trafficking.
Because Barcelona launched an appeal against the transfer embargo in April, the ban was temporarily lifted during the current transfer window, which closes on Sept. 1. That allowed Barcelona to spend around $240 million strengthening during the offseason, with Uruguay striker Luis Suarez the headline signing from Liverpool.
A fine of 450,000 Swiss francs ($494,000) was also imposed on Barcelona over the signing of players under the age of 18 from 2009 to 2013. Barcelona said it would appeal against the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, calling the FIFA ruling "an affront to the spirit of our Masia, a world renowned example of academic, human and sporting education."
Lionel Messi, the biggest star to emerge from La Masia, has defended the training academy which shaped his career.
"It formed me with the values of La Masia and I am what I am today thanks to those values," Messi said in an in-house interview promoted by the club on Twitter after the FIFA announcement.
The international transfer of players under the age of 18 can only go through if their parents move to the country for non-football reasons. Players between 16 and 18 can move within Europe if certain standards of education and living conditions are met.
FIFA told The Associated Press that it received 1,829 applications for the international transfer and registration of minors in 2013, and 200 were rejected. The Transfer Matching System showed in 2012 that of 1,748 cases, 221 moves were rebuffed by a committee.
FIFA has given Barcelona 90 days "to regularize the situation of all minor players concerned."
The idea for a youth training center was first suggested to Barcelona by Johan Cruyff, who graduated from a similar concept at the Ajax academy, and La Masia was created in 1979. Away from the Nou Camp, it is a boarding school where academic studies are combined with training young players in a relaxed atmosphere.
The Spanish Football Federation was also found to have violated FIFA rules covering the registration of minors. Its appeal against a fine of 500,000 Swiss francs ($565,500) was also rejected.
Associated Press Writer Harold Heckle in Madrid contributed to this report