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Transfer Bans on Real and Atletico Madrid Will Shake Up Balance of Power

Even though Barcelona was able to survive a similar transfer ban, Real and Atletico might really be in trouble.
Courtesy of Wikipedia

It got sort of lost in the fevered buildup to Pep v. Mou II, Saturday's Manchester Derby that will pit Pep Guardiola's City against Jose Mourinho's United for the first time in the resumption of a heated personal rivalry. And maybe it even got snowed under, stateside at least, by the shenanigans surrounding Megan Rapinoe's protest or Landon Donovan's un-retiring.

But Thursday's news that the one-year transfer ban for both Real and Atletico Madrid has been upheld by FIFA on appeal could prove fairly cataclysmic for the short-term balance of power within the sport.


Just as Barcelona was banned from registering new players for national, continental or global competitions for two consecutive transfer windows for breaking FIFA rules regarding the recruitment of underage players, Real and Atletico will have to sit out the upcoming winter and summer windows. Barca's ban ended this past winter.

Barca manager Luis Enrique said he hoped "they don't achieve the same results as us" in spite of the ban. Indeed, Real and Atletico should be so lucky as to replicate Barca's La Liga-Copa del Rey-Club World Cup treble in spite of not signing any new players until January—and ones, Arda Turan and Aleix Vidal, who didn't contribute much during the second part of the season at that.

Luis Enrique's Real Madrid counterpart Zinedine Zidane has called the ban "absurd." He knows his side may be in trouble.

Consider, after all, that the inability to buy players for two transfer windows threatened to shatter Barca's dynasty. But somehow, they managed to survive in spite of their paper-thin squad because several veterans held up and remained productive—namely Dani Alves, Jeremy Mathieu, Andres Iniesta and Javier Mascherano—and because they were lucky to avoid major injury rashes. But Barca also made it through because it leaned heavily on its fabled youth academy.

Last season alone, Barca plugged gaps with Dani Romera, Gerard Gumbau, Sergi Samper, Aitor Cantalapiedra, Juan Camara, Wilfrid Kaptoum, Jordi Masip, Sandro Ramirez, and Munir El Haddadi. You've likely only heard of the latter of those, since he was the lone player to make an impact of any kind. But the point is these players were there, ready to step in, even if it was only in early-round Copa Del Rey games, just to give the regulars a breather.


Now, Real is typically a deeper team than Barca is. And it's sort of ironic that it should be punished for youth academy infractions since it very rarely allows youth players a chance to break straight into the senior team without at least several loan spells and perhaps a sale and buy-back. But this Real side was unusually quiet over the summer, only bringing back Alvaro Morata from Juventus in just such a buy-back move.

And there are gaps in the squad. The back line could do with more cover and relies heavily on 33-year-old Pepe and 30-year-old Sergio Ramos. There is no proven backup for holding midfielder Casemiro. And Morata is the only alternative up front who doesn't represent a significant drop-off from the Cristiano Ronaldo-Karim Benzema-Gareth Bale trident.

Real isn't likely to turn to its youth team for answers, either. Last season, it used six players promoted from the academy over the course of all its competitions, but in spite of winning the Champions League for a second time in three years—stretching the season to 52 games—only one of those made a start.

This season, in spite of its minimal transfer haul, Real promoted just a single player from the reserve team system its academy feeds into, 23-year-old forward Mariano Diaz. It could be that the 11-time European champions had simply assumed that the ban would be overturned on appeal—and the club has appealed again to the Court of Arbitration for Sport—but it seems particularly ill-prepared to weather it. After all Ronaldo and Luka Modric have also passed their 30th birthdays.

Which brings us to Atletico Madrid, the underdog turned powerhouse that remains incapable of retaining its biggest stars for very long. Atletico, therefore, relies heavily on its ability to replenish its squad to absorb significant losses. The Mattressmakers eagerly snapped up a forward (Kevin Gameiro), a midfielder (Nicolas Gaitain) and a defender (Sime Vrsaljko) while it could. But if a pivotal player leaves, there's little it can do to soften the blow.

Barca, which had an excellent summer in the market—addressing a slew of long-standing needs with young but proven players, and has won six of the last eight La Liga titles—could soon rise far above its two only title rivals. And one of the most compelling leagues around could well grow dull for a few years.