Victor Ibarbo faces the prospect of spending the second half of the season in limbo due to Fifa regulations surrounding the status and transfer of players.
The Colombian winger, who has not made the last six matchday squads, does not feature in the immediate plans of Quique Sanchez Flores and he will fall even further down the pecking order when another winger arrives this month. Lazio’s Keita Balde Diao and Andros Townsend are two names on the club’s shortlist. Depending on the nationality of the January arrivals, Ibarbo could lose his place as one of 17 foreign players in the resubmitted squad at the end of the month.
Ibarbo could be sent back to Roma, where he is loan from Cagliari, but the Hornets would still be liable for his wages (just as Wigan Athletic are with Sean Murray until January 16) as part of the season-long loan arrangement agreed on the final day of the summer window. Plus we understand Ibarbo does not feature in the plans of Roma coach Rudi Garcia so they would not be receptive to terminating the loan deal, for financial or practical reasons.
Ibarbo, 25, is unable to move, even on loan, to another club this season as Article 5.3 of the world governing body’s regulations states: “Players may be registered with a maximum of three clubs during one season. During this period, the player is only eligible to play official matches for two clubs.”
Ibarbo came on as an 89th-minute substitute for Roma in their Serie A win over Juventus in August and has made three substitute appearances for Watford.
Steven Berghuis, for example, has only played for Watford this season so he would be eligible to play for another club this season. Likewise with Alessandro Diamanti. However, the case of Obbi Oulare is less clear.
The Belgian has played seven matches for Club Brugge this season and two for Watford’s Under-21 side in the Professional Development League. There is some ambiguity over whether the U21 matches are still ruled by Fifa as official matches.
This time last year, Hatem Ben Arfa was banned from playing for new club Nice because he had played for Hull City in the Premier League and for Newcastle United’s U21 side in the same competition Harry Kewell’s side are in this season.
A statement on Nice’s official website read: “Nice have received a copy of a correspondence sent by Fifa to the FFF [French Football Federation]. The international federation responded to the question posed by the French federation regarding a match played by Hatem Ben Arfa with Newcastle under-21s. Contrary to the position of the English [Football Association], it appears that for Fifa the match in the U21 Professional Development League ‘must be considered as official in the sense of the regulation’ and ‘must therefore be taken into consideration in determining the application of article 5.3 of the regulation’ on the status and transfer of players.”
A statement from the French Football League read: “In application of the decision, the French Football has no other choice but to ban Hatem Ben Arfa from playing official matches with Nice until the end of the season.”
The Football League, we gather, refuse to recognise the rule so if a play moves domestically the rule is waived. If there is an international move, including between England and Wales, the rule applies. Townsend, for example, played for Millwall, Ipswich, Tottenham Hotspur and Watford in the 2010/11 season.