Document leaks: Chelsea secretly signed underage players

15 April 2019

chelsea
Photo: Getty Images Der Spiegel reported that documents from Football Leaks contain a draft contract dating from spring 2014 in which FC Chelsea bound the Croatian player Karlo Ziger to London with a so-called scholarship agreement beginning in July 2017.

The case of a Croatian youth player who was secretly signed against the rules puts Chelsea on the spot in terms of alignment with FIFA regulations.

Foreign youth players are seemingly hidden from records in order to be developed in England, and other Premier League clubs may be involved.

Peter Høyer ph@offthepitch.com

In the global race for the greatest talents in the football business, Premier League clubs may be using shady methods. In order to veil the improper deals Chelsea FC were cutting with young players, the club have reportedly deceived regulators about players’ personal details and worked with other major English clubs to play in an unchecked parallel league.

Der Spiegel reported that documents from Football Leaks contain a draft contract dating from spring 2014 in which FC Chelsea bound the Croatian player Karlo Ziger to London with a so-called scholarship agreement beginning in July 2017.

When Chelsea scouts discovered the tall goalkeeper, the club were not allowed to transfer him. The rules of global football governing body FIFA forbid the signing of minors under the age of 16 across national borders.

An internal club spreadsheet shows that Ziger trained with the Chelsea youth club on more than 250 days between 2014 and 2016.

However, the deal stipulated he would receive a £120,000 signing bonus. The documents state that Ziger had just turned 12 at the time of the contract's signing. Premier League rules prohibit attracting minors with offers of money.

Furthermore, an email correspondence between a lawyer for Chelsea and an external adviser reveals how they put pressure on the parents to sign Ziger. The young player agreed to the deal in 2014 and in the meantime vanished from official records in September 2013 until the age of 16 in 2017, when he resurfaced as a Chelsea player.

Secret competitive development system

Der Spiegel also reported that it is not uncommon for unregistered youth players to play in England secretly. An internal club spreadsheet shows that Ziger trained with the Chelsea youth club on more than 250 days between 2014 and 2016.

According to Der Spiegel, clubs that abide by the rules are clearly placing themselves at a competitive disadvantage in the football market. The highly-professionalised academies of the British top clubs apparently let young players play against each other for years - unchecked and in violation of the rules.

"It is important that the Premier League understands that this is a widespread issue."

FC Chelsea have even admitted as much. In spring 2017, the Premier League and FC Chelsea exchanged several emails regarding suspicions the club was training up-and-coming players without official playing licences. In one email, the club asked for more understanding:

"It is important that the Premier League understands that this is a widespread issue." And it would "neither be fair nor reasonable for CFC (FC Chelsea) to be singled out in the circumstances."

Chelsea are already on shaky ground with FIFA in terms of the rules on signing youth players. FIFA said in March that it found breaches in 29 cases out of 92 investigated, including that of striker Bertrand Traore, now at Lyon. Chelsea were fined £460,000 and banned from the next two transfer windows - a decision the club have appealed.