Serous Infractions: Fielding an Ineligible Player

4th January 2020
Professional soccer is structured by a specific set of norms and rules. One of these defines the number of allowed players and their positions. If teams fail to follow the rule, they could commit an infraction known as, "fielding an ineligible player".

Not every player can participate in a professional soccer match. Certain rules can overshadow a player’s skill and ability. This, in order to prevent an infraction known as fielding an ineligible player.

In order to play in an official competition, the players on a team must meet a certain set of requirements. Should a team include a player that doesn’t meet the requirements, it effectively fields an ineligible player.

Every competition has its own set of rules regarding line-up and player eligibility. In Spain, the Royal Spanish Football Federation is in charge of regulating and administering national competitions. This includes La Liga and the Copa del Rey.

Teams can appeal the decisions made by the Federation. They can take their cases to disciplinary committees, sports courts or even to the International Football Federation (FIFA). Some cases can even take an ordinary judicial course.

Cheryshev: ineligible player

The Cheryshev case took place on December 2, 2015, in a Copa del Rey (round of sixteen) match between Real Madrid CF and Cadiz CF.

Real Madrid was deemed to win with its impressive history and, more importantly, its financial advantage. But, one name would change history forever: Denis Cheryshev.

The Russian winger didn’t just play; in minute-3 he scored the first of a string of goals at the Ramón de Carranza stadium.

ineligible player cheryshev
Cheryshev, donning a Villarreal CF jersey, facing Real Madrid

Here’s where things became complicated: Cheryshev didn’t actually meet the official requisites to participate in the match. The case became famous, catching the attention of soccer fans everywhere.

Previously, before the match…

In the previous season on March 4, 2015, Cheryshev received a yellow card while playing for his team at the time, Villarreal CF, against Barcelona FC (1-3). It was a semi-final match in the Copa del Rey and their loss took them out of the competition.

Two days after that match, on March 6, 2015, a referee determined that Cheryshev had to sit-out a match as a sanction for receiving too many cards. The last card he received while playing against Barcelona was already his third. His sanction was set to take place on the next viable occasion as his team was eliminated from the Copa del Rey.

Thus, he would have to sit-out the first game of the next season. Regardless of which team he played for, Cheryshev was prohibited from stepping onto the pitch on December 2. By putting him on the pitch, Real Madrid fielded an eligible player.

Chronicle of an ineligible player foretold

The media made the story famous. The public waited impatiently for the final ruling on the game. The final say would determine whether Real Madrid would remain eliminated from the competition without playing the second-leg match in Santiago Bernabéu.

Despite all of the protesting among fans, one of the referees of the match reviewed the official rules and later decided to disqualify Real Madrid.

The Madrid managers fought against the decision, even years after, quoting the official norms. They took every opportunity to outcry the fielding of an ineligible player and the rightful punishment that should’ve accompanied the infraction.

field ineligible player chronicle

Fielding an ineligible player: a serious infraction

It’s bigger than Spain and soccer itself. Teams that field an ineligible player, or players, commit a serious infraction. In most of the cases, they have to pay a high price.

In soccer leagues, the guilty team can automatically lose a match 0-3. And, in the case that officials decide to directly eliminate a team instead, the team is simply automatically disqualified, which is what happened to Real Madrid in 2015.

If the team takes their case to court, claiming that they didn’t know the player in question was ineligible isn’t a valid argument. Despite its invalidity, both Cheryshev and Real Madrid tried to reason that they were unaware of his sanction.

  • Federación Española de Fútbol. Código disciplinario. Extraído de: https://www.rfef.es/sites/default/files/pdf/CODIGO-DISCIPLINARIO-TEMPORADA-2015-2016.pdf
  • Comité de Apelación Federación Española de Fútbol. Caso Cheryshev. Extraído de: https://cdn1.sefutbol.com/sites/default/files/sanciones/apelacion_1-16_ida_copa_sm_rey.pdf