It makes for a good headline, especially in light of all three of Barcelona, Real Madrid, and Atlético Madrid getting rung up recently on charges of violating FIFA's Article 19, but FIFA are apparently "probing" the circumstances surrounding Chelsea's acquisition of Bertrand Traoré.
In case you're unfamiliar with Article 19, here's our friend Jake Cohen writing about Barcelona's ban back in December 2014, and then again about the two Madrid teams' charges from a couple weeks ago. Basically, they transferred and registered players under the age 18, who did not meet the exceptions allowed under FIFA's rule (like, say, when Jeremie Boga's family moved to London, where his father was working already, from France and thus we could sign him).
The PA's Matt McGeehan broke the Traoré story yesterday.
Chelsea's recruitment of youngsters under scrutiny after it emerged Bertrand Traore played for u18s side when aged 16, contrary to FIFA regs— Matt McGeehan (@mattmcgeehan) January 26, 2016
#Breaking via @mattmcgeehan Here's Bertrand Traore playing for Chelsea U18s at 16, apparently contrary to FIFA rule pic.twitter.com/zMDblbYbDi— PA Dugout (@PAdugout) January 26, 2016
Sure enough, that's young Bertrand on October 24, 2011 at just 16 years of age. Of course, that was a friendly against Arsenal U18, not an officially sanctioned match, and Traoré was just a trialist. As we know, had been on trial several times before finally turning 18 and being allowed to officially transfer to and sign with Chelsea. Incidentally, in that same match, a 17-year-old Lucas Piazon also featured for the first time, before his move to Chelsea became official a couple months later when he turned 18.
Bertrand Traore was registered by Chelsea FC in January 2014 in compliance with FA and Premier League Rules. Prior to that date, he was party to an option agreement which enabled the club to acquire his registration in January 2014. The option agreement was registered with, and approved by, both The FA and the Premier League."
-Chelsea FC statement; source: PA via ESPN
This was actually a source of frustration back in the day, and even Jose Mourinho spoke about it to the press after Traoré joined the team in pre-season training in Malaysia and impressed.
"He is not a Chelsea player yet, he is a trialist. He's a 17-year-old kid and he had some movement and some touch on the ball, so you can imagine he is a good kid for the youth team. We want to keep him but have to wait until he becomes 18 to try to get a permit for him..."
-Jose Mourinho; July 2013
Eventually, after finally turning 18, Traoré agreed to a contract in October of 2013, but without a work permit was sent on loan to Vitesse in January for the next 18 months. As far as we can tell, despite the long drawn-out process to acquire the young man from Burkina Faso (he was "discovered" way back in 2010), Chelsea had acted properly and by the book on this one.
Nipping this in the bud straightaway - seems very unlikely Chelsea would face a transfer ban for an Article 19 violation.— Jake Cohen (@JakeFCohen) November 29, 2015
Back then, in November, it was the Spanish media who tried these scare tactics (they also name-dropped Arsenal, for the fun of it); now it's the English. FIFA, for their part, neither confirm or deny anything.
"We are not in a position to comment on any investigations that are ongoing so as not to compromise the process, nor do we provide any comments as to whether or not any investigations are under way."
-FIFA spokesperson; source: PA via ESPN
Should we worry? I doubt it. Surely, after the Kakuta nonsense, we'd be extra careful not to violate any rules, whether that's tapping-up or underage transfers or whatever else. Plus, it's been over two years since Traoré signed; would be a rather random time to finally face charges over it.
Obviously, being unable to register new signings for two transfer windows — which seems to be the standard punishment — would hurt, especially in this hour of need for rebuilding, but on the other hand, we do have a rather tremendous group of talented players both in the academy and out on loan. We might even use some of them this way! Yeah, we'd probably be just fine. Not that I expect anything to come of this scaremongering by the English media.