Nathaniel Chalobah spent the first half of the season playing a few games for Chelsea U21s before joining Premier League strugglers Burnley for a few months on loan. Unfortunately, the loan to the Clarets didn't quite work as well as we had hoped -- an untimely and scary throat injury didn't help things at all -- and the 20-year-old was recalled to the mothership to await further instructions.
Another loan was the expectation, and there was interest even from abroad. In fact, Ligue 1 contenders Girondins de Bordeaux -- through a recent run of bad results has pretty much dropped them from contender to also-ran -- emerged as the leading option for the player's loan signature. An intriguing option, to be sure. Except it's not going to happen, because of a ridiculous interpretation of a rule.
We're all familiar with FIFA's Article 5.3 by now I'm sure.
"Players may be registered with a maximum of three clubs during one season. During this period, the player is only eligible to play official matches for two clubs."
With all of Chelsea's dealings in the transfer and loan markets, we've become intimately acquainted with this rule. Two teams max, got it. But what counts as an official match is apparently not quite so straightforward.
"Contrary to the position of the English [Football Association], it appears that for Fifa the match in the U21 Professional Development League 'must be considered as official in the sense of the regulation' and 'must therefore be taken into consideration in determining the application of article 5.3 of the regulation' on the status and transfer of players."
The Telegraph article may be talking about Hatem Ben Arfa's proposed transfer from Newcastle to Nice, but the idea and the application is exactly the same. Both Ben Arfa and Chalobah had played in the U21 league, which is basically the reserves league, but apparently those matches count as far as FIFA are concerned as "official." Which is, well, ridiculous and fascinating and weird and silly and, above all, surprising. That both Chelsea and Newcastle (and Bordeaux and Nice) were not aware of this interpretation surely is a sign that FIFA just pulled a decision out of their hat without much (if any) prior evidence. Thanks, FIFA!
So what's next for older Chalobah whose 15-year-old brother, Trevor, made his U21 debut against FC Porto tonight? The two obvious options are a loan back to Burnley again or simply staying with Chelsea, remaining match fit with the U21s and maybe making an appearance or two with the first-team. There's also the possibility that, since FIFA's jurisdiction is only over international transfers, the English FA would not count the U21 games as "official" and thus allow Chalobah to join another English team. We often talk about the ridiculous decisions of the English FA, but surely they would not be so ridiculous as to follow FIFA's lead in this one, especially if the loan gets classed as an "emergency" short-term loan*.
In any case, this situation's a bit of a mess. Because FIFA. Sigh.
* Here's @chelseayouth with some knowledge:
@D_Peezy Can't reply on site right now but a domestic loan is definitely possible, Swift has already done it with Rotherham, U21s, Swindon.— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) January 14, 2015
@D_Peezy It just has to be done as two or more short term deals rather than window to window, all administrative nonsense etc.— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) January 14, 2015