The name Federico Macheda has been bandied around a lot lately, and not just because of his two stunning late goals against Aston Villa and Sunderland. Macheda has been the object of an international tug of war between Manchester United, his current club, and SS Lazio, the club that nurtured and developed him as a boy.
Lazio president Claudio Lotito has argued that his club “could not compete with United’s offer” because unlike in England, FIGC laws restrict players from signing official club contracts until they are 18 years of age. Lotito and some members of the Italian press have also claimed that United lured young Macheda to England by offering his parents prominent, high-paying jobs in Manchester. United have staunchly defended their signing of Macheda, claiming that they followed routine procedures.
So the debate is as follows: was Manchester United’s signing of Macheda legal? The answer: a resounding yes.
1.) The Transfer Process
According to FIFA’s Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players, international transfers of players under the age of 18 are expressly forbidden unless they meet some or all of the following conditions: that the player is moving for family reasons that are not connected to football, that the player is moving to a country less than 100km from his home and continues to live with his parents or guardians, and that the two countries are both located in either the EU or the EEA.
The case of Federico Macheda falls into the first and third categories. Manchester United could have easily argued that Macheda moved to England for reasons other than football, as his father was offered a high-paying job in England. It is rather sleazy that the job was offered by United themselves, but not entirely uncommon. Plus, this move is not only available to the English clubs—Lazio, if they were so inclined, could easily do the same thing with a promising English youngster.
The third category is a bit more complicated. There are a whole host of sub-demands that Manchester United must meet in order for the transfer to be legal. They must provide the player with education (football and general), ensure living arrangements, provide a mentor, and notify the former club of the players’ assimilation. United have done each of these things. Macheda is a product of the Manchester United Academy, and therefore received stellar football and general education. United helped the Macheda family find living quarters AND appointed young Kiko a mentor—Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, another king of late goals.
2.) Macheda’s Status
As long as Macheda was registered as an amateur and not a professional in Lazio’s books, his transfer occurred at an acceptable time. According to FIFA, amateurs are players who make less money from footballing activity than the expenses they incur on their club. Amateurs cannot be traded at any time; they, too, have a transfer window. However, it does not always align with the professional transfer window and can vary based on national association. Macheda was signed in September 2007—outside the professional window, but inside the FIGC’s amateur window.
3.) “A Proper Cattle Market”
Though Lazio president Claudio Lotito’s assertion that amateur transfer rules have turned a civilized process into a “proper cattle market” has some weight, he’s complaining to the wrong people. Young player rights are determined by national association, not by FIFA. Therefore, Lotito should turn his anger towards the FIGC. Perhaps the upcoming FIFA Congress in June (which will focus on young player rights) will help inspire national associations to be fairer about the movement of young players. However, until FIFA mandates an acceptable contract-signing age, the losses are all on the FIGC.
It’s also worth mentioning that Italian clubs are free to offer incentives to their young stars just like English clubs do. Sure, they cannot provide a set-in-stone contract, but they can do everything but. And history shows that most young Italian stars choose to play in Italy when they turn 18—the vast majority of players on Italy’s national team and under-21 team are signed with clubs based in their home countries.
Italian football must rue the loss of Federico Macheda. But it would do well to remember that though one got away, dozens stayed behind.
Editor: Macheda has been practicing his ‘pull back, turn and shoot’ routine for a long time now, have a look at this from a U18 game last season: