Only A Few Seconds More: The Curious Case of Adrien Silva

Only A Few Seconds More: The Curious Case of Adrien Silva

Craig Shakespeare, Leicester Football Club’s manager, was justified to be rueful when the Foxes hosted Chelsea in September. First, it was Leicester old boy, N’golo Kante, who scored the odd goal in three that won it for the defending champions.

In an irony that would not have been lost on the manager, Danny Drinkwater, whom Leicester had sold to Chelsea on deadline day over Shakespeare’s objections, was confined to the bench for the visitors. And to cap it all, Drinkwater’s £25 million would-be replacement, Portuguese midfielder Adrien Silva, was not available to Shakey for a most curious reason.

Leicester had delayed Silva’s purchase to be sure that Drinkwater’s £35 million move to Chelsea would go through. To their palpable consternation, Silva’s transfer was then denied for the paperwork having been filed late by a few seconds – fourteen, it was alleged – on FIFA’s transfer matching system (TMS). Fourteen seconds? Surely, FIFA and the FA could have overlooked that? Alas, no.

Leicester City’s Craig Shakespeare

FIFA started using the online TMS in 2010. The two clubs involved in an international transfer must enter the required information into the TMS and upload certain documents including the transfer agreement and the player’s contract with the new club. The information entered on both sides must match exactly. Otherwise, the transfer may not be validated and the national association of the selling club will not issue an international transfer certificate (ITC) to the association of the buying club. Without the ITC, the national association of the buying club cannot register the player and he cannot play. Cue therefore a glum Silva and even glummer Shakespeare as Chelsea literally put one over the Foxes at the King Power Stadium.

Shortly after the Silva problem came to light, Leicester announced that they were working with the player and his former club, Sporting Lisbon, on a solution. Apparently, none has been found and the Portuguese international seems condemned to the stands until the January transfer window.  The TMS was meant to make international transfers quicker and more transparent.

Hitherto, processing transfers across borders was usually a laborious undertaking. The clubs first had to send the paperwork by courier or fax to FIFA. FIFA would check the papers manually before sending them to the national association of the buying club. Only then could the international transfer certificate be requested. Given the number of transfers processed, the old system had FIFA swamped and created room for all sorts mago mago.

That was until the governing body hit on the idea of an online system which could manage things electronically. As Mark Goddard, the general manager of the TMS would remark, the whole process could now be completed in as little as seven minutes instead of days or weeks. Today, more than 6,500 clubs and 209 member associations use the system.
The critical thing always is that the data entered by transferor and transferee clubs separately must match; if not, the transfer will be automatically blocked.

This puts the burden on clubs, rather than FIFA, to ensure the accuracy of entries and sort out discrepancies. Furthermore, the information is logged so that FIFA has a database of the details of every transfer including even agents’ identities and commissions.

It is not clear which of Leicester or Sporting Lisbon was at fault for the Silva debacle. Individual TMS data is not made public although it can be given to a national or regional association on request. FIFA has adopted this to comply with data protection laws and in deference to clubs wanting to keep their sensitive information confidential. It must be noted however that while FIFA sets the TMS parameters, it is the national associations that fix when their respective transfer windows start and end. The English FA therefore decided the cutoff time for all transfers into the Premiership.

In the circumstances, the FA could have given Leicester a special dispensation, innit? Well, the TMS is run by FIFA so there is a checks-and-balances thing going on, the rules are the rules and all that, blah, blah, blah. So, sorry guv, it’s no, again.

Sporting Lisbon/Leicester City’s Adrien Silva

Apart from transfers being blocked, FIFA’s Disciplinary Committee punishes clubs and associations that break the rules. Sanctions are meted, under FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, according to the seriousness of the offence. The penalties include an official warning, a fine, exclusion from competition, withholding of a trophy or award, annulment of match results, match forfeiture, a points deduction, demotion to a lower division and a transfer ban.

In 2014, the Disciplinary Committee hit Zimbabwe’s Hwange Colliery FC with a CHF 10,000 ($10,655) fine for being in breach of the TMS. Hwange was found guilty of fielding Creven Banda, on his return from loan to Botswana’s Motlakase Power Dynamos, without seeking an ITC from the Botswana FA. The complaint was apparently prompted when Motlakase officials saw Banda, on TV, playing for Hwange in a Zimbabwean Premiership match that was screened live on SuperSport.

In 2012, the Committee imposed fines of CHF 35,000 each on Genoa FC of Italy and CA Independiente of Argentina for not submitting certain information and uploading relevant documents for the transfer of Julian Alberto Velazquez from the Argentine club to the Italian one. The transfer of the player remained blocked up till the time of the decision as Independiente had not entered its counter-information on the TMS and no ITC had been requested. The Committee ordered Independiente to upload the information within seven days or face harsher sanctions.

FIFA has also punished clubs for not keeping TMS data confidential. In 2014, the Committee fined Indonesian clubs, Persebaya Surabaya and Persires Bali Devata, CHF 25,000 each for publishing TMS data on their Twitter accounts. A third club, PSIS Semarang, was fined CHF 15,000 for re-publishing the tweets and publishing a confidential letter received from the TMS. The three clubs were also reprimanded.

For Adrien Silva and Leicester then, it seems there is no option but to tarry till January 2018. In the interim perhaps, they might reap solace, scant it may be, from the words of Shakespeare’s illustrious forebear: ‘Things without all remedy should be without regard: what’s done is done.’

Dr. Peter Ntephe is an English FA registered football intermediary.

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