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FIFA penalizes Barcelona for signing underage players

FIFA on Wednesday banned defending Spanish soccer champion Barcelona from signing any players for one year because of repeated transfer rules violations.

The penalty covers the summer and January transfer windows and was handed down after an investigation into the team’s signing of players under age 18 from 2009 to '13.

FIFA also fined Barcelona $509,000 -- less than the team plays Brazilian transfer Neymar each week -- after discovering the signing of 10 unidentified players breached its rules covering the protection of minors.

Barcelona has 90 days “to regularize the situation of all minor players concerned.”

More costly than the fine, however, is the fact the sanctions will prevent the Spanish club, a 22-time La Liga champion, from signing players until the summer of 2015 and leaves in limbo recent agreements with Borussia Monchengladbach goalkeeper Marc-Andre Ter Stegen and Croatian teenager Alen Halilovic to join the club in July.

FIFA found the Spanish Football Federation also violated the rules covering the registration of minors and issued a fine of $565,500.

“The disciplinary committee emphasized that the protection of minors in the context of international transfers is an important social and legal issue that concerns all stakeholders in football,” FIFA said in a statement. “Above all, the committee highlighted that while international transfers might, in specific cases, be favorable to a young player's sporting career, they are very likely to be contrary to the best interests of the player as a minor.”

Spanish media reports highlighted the signing of South Korea player Lee Seung Woo as one of the principle infractions, with FIFA having already warned Barcelona about the 16-year-old's inclusion in youth matches.

The FIFA ruling is the latest is a series of troubles for Barcelona. Club president Sandro Rosell abruptly quit in January and is challenging a lawsuit that alleges he misappropriated funds by hiding the real cost of Neymar's signing from Brazilian club Santos.

And in February, Barcelona paid $18.6 million to Spanish tax authorities to cover any potential irregularities of the transfer, while maintaining its innocence of fraud charges.

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