Schalke FC has today complained to UEFA about the inclusion of Didier Drogba in their Champions League game against Galatasaray on Wednesday night. The reasons behind this provide a good and interesting opportunity for the rules of the game to be examined.
Schalke’s protest is based on the fact that Drogba did not have international clearance from UEFA to play in the Champions League until after the deadline date for registering players, being the 31 January 2013. He agreed to join Galatasaray – affectionately known as ‘the Lions’ – on 28 January 2013, three days before the registration deadline. However, due to his contractual issues with his previous club Shanghai Shenhua, he did not receive his international clearance from UEFA until 13 February. Importantly, he was not eligible to play for Galatasaray at all until the 13 February.
The 31 January Champions League deadline for registering players for the last 16 phase of the competition is absolute under the laws of the game, and cannot be extended for any reason. Based on Schalke’s protest UEFA will now have to examine this issue. Taking into account similar previous cases, and considering a broad interpretation of UEFA governance, it is likely the issue will come down to when the Lions submitted Drogba’s Champions League registration paperwork to UEFA. If before the 31 January, then UEFA may well allow his inclusion; if after 31 January then Galatasaray will likely find themselves in hot water. If found in breach of the UEFA rules by fielding an ineligible player in the form of Drogba in Wednesday’s game, the very least they can expect is expulsion from this season’s Champions League.
Some would consider Schalke’s actions as being nothing short of sour grapes or ‘grassing’, but this is an incorrect view. The rules are the rules and they cannot be enforced arbitrarily. Look at the example of Bradford FC, who were removed from the FA Cup for fielding an illegible player. I hope for Galatasaray’s sake that whoever was tasked with submitting Drogba’s paperwork to UEFA did their job correctly, in a timely manner. Blaming a faulty fax machine, or non-working emails (see Benjani’s move to Sunderland in 2010) is unlikely to hold much sway with UEFA.
Head of Media and Sports Law @ Pinder Reaux
Pinder Reaux & Associates