Barcelona have been given a transfer ban for the next two transfer windows for breaching transfer and registration rules, and have been fined 450,000 Swiss francs, Fifa has confirmed.
The suspension relates to the signings of 10 under-18 players, with the governing body confirming the ban is to do with “the international transfer of minors”.
The Catalan club has also been fined £306,000 and has been instructed by the world governing body “to regularize the situation of all minor players concerned.”
The Spanish FA has also been handed a 500,000 Swiss francs fine for rule breaches in terms of registering the players.
"FC Barcelona has been found to be in breach of article 19 of the regulations in the case of 10 minor players and to have committed several other concurrent infringements in the context of other players," a Fifa statement read.
"The disciplinary committee regarded the infringements as serious and decided to sanction the club with a transfer ban at both national and international level for two complete and consecutive transfer periods, together with a fine of 450,000 Swiss francs.
"Additionally, the club was granted a period of 90 days in which to regularise the situation of all minor players concerned."
The ruling comes after a Fifa investigation conducted by its transfer matching system officials who looked at under-18 players registered with the club during the period of 2009 and 2013, with rules stating that the international transfers of minors are only allowed under limited circumstances that have to be ratified by the players’ status committee at Fifa.
The statement went on to add: “The disciplinary committee emphasised that the protection of minors in the context of international transfers is an important social and legal issue that concerns all stakeholders in football.
“The committee highlighted that while international transfers might, in specific cases, be favourable to a young player's sporting career, they are very likely to be contrary to the best interests of the player as a minor.
“Young football players are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse in a foreign country without the proper controls. This particular fact makes the protection of minors in football by the sport's governing bodies, especially by FIFA, even more important.”
The Spanish FA has been given a longer period by Fifa to get its affairs in order, with the statement declaring that they have one year to “regularise their regulatory framework and existing system concerning the international transfer of minors in football”.
Barcelona only completed the signing of 17-year-old Croatian international Alen Halilovic last week, with the Dinamo Zagreb midfielder set to move to the reigning La Liga champions in the summer. They have also been linked with moves for Chelsea duo David Luiz and Thibault Coirtois, as well as Tottenham goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, with the need to replace the outgoing Victor Valdes and Carlos Puyol.
Barcelona can – and most likely will – appeal the decision which would postpone the transfer ban until a decision is made, but the ruling has cast serious doubt over the proposed move of Halilovic and the reported interest in Borussia Monchengladbach stopper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, who was expected to be named as Valdes’ successor at the Nou Camp.
Fifa rules state that an under-18 player can only complete an international transfer if one of these situations is complied with: 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.
The La Liga club currently have three South Korean youth players on their books, including the highly-rated 15-year-old striker Lee Seung Woo, while they also have a number of African teenagers playing for the club.
Valdes has already announced his intention to leave the club when his contract expires at the end of the season, but his Barcelona career was unexpectedly and sadly cut short when he suffered anterior knee ligament damage in the 3-0 victory over Celta Vigo last week.
The club confirmed that he underwent successful surgery this week, and will be out of action for at least seven months. Even if he performs a U-turn and decides to stay at the Nou Camp, he will likely be unavailable until the end of the year.
“The knee's internal cartilage has been sewn up and the operation was concluded successfully,” read a Barcelona statement on Monday.
Puyol has also confirmed he will bring the curtain down on his Barcelona career at the end of the season, sighting persistent knee injuries as the reasoning behind his decision. The veteran centre-back, who joined the club in 1999 from the academy, no longer feels he can compete at the highest level, leaving Gerard Pique, Javier Mascherano and Marc Bartra as the current centre-back’s available to Gerardo Martino. Former Arsenal midfielder Alex Song is also able to cover in defence if needed.
Barcelona, who can still secure a league, cup and Champions League treble, saw Pique ruled out for at least four weeks late last night after suffering a hairline fracture in his pelvis in the 1-1 quarter-final first leg draw with Atletico Madrid.
The sanction is another blemish on the club’s reputation – whose owning members pride themselves on being “more than a club” – following the alarming irregularities that blighted the sumer transfer of Neymar from Brazilian side Santos.
Originally thought to have cost the club £48.6m, then-club president Sandro Rosell resigned in January after allegations emerged that he had misappropriated money in attempts to avoid paying £7.58m in tax on a deal that appears to have cost over £71m – making Neymar the third-most expensive player in history.