By Kim Tong-hyung
For Korean parents who want their kids to grow up as the country's next football idol, European clubs have been destinations for a pilgrimage.
However, a recent conflict between Spanish giants Barcelona and FIFA over international transfers of young players, involving a number of Korean teenage prospects, doubles as a splash of cold water on overzealous sports parents.
Barcelona is appealing FIFA bans on six of its youth players, including 15-year-old Korean Lee Seung-woo, touted by some as the club's most promising prospect since Argentine superstar Lionel Messi.
Barcelona has a solid reputation for training and educating young players, with Messi and Spanish midfield magician Andres Iniesta highlighting a list of world-beaters produced from its youth system.
While Barcelona's wealth in under-aged talent includes many players scouted outside of Spain, FIFA, the governing body of world football, now accuses the club of violating its regulations on the international transfer of minors, designed to stop child trafficking and exploitation.
Aside of Lee, Paik Seung-ho, 16, and Jang Gyeol-hee, 15, were the other Korean youngsters included in the ban. FIFA also directed Barcelona not to select 15-year-old French prospect Theo Chendri, Nigerian-Dutch minor Bobby Adekanye and Cameroon player Patrice Sousia to play in its youth squads. Barcelona announced that all six minors will not play until a decision is made on its appeal.
FIFA has been tightening control on the transfer of minors in recent years to prevent the trafficking of under-aged players, amid criticism that European football clubs were luring youngsters from Third World countries with promises of lucrative contracts, only to abandon them if they don't pan out.
According to FIFA regulations, international transfers are only permitted if the player is over the age of 18. Exceptions are granted when the player's parents move to the country for reasons unlinked to football or when the player is over 16 and the move takes place within the European Union, but then only under a strict set of living and education conditions.
Barcelona counters that it provides quality education for its minors at its La Masia training facility and that Spanish law allows minors to live and study in the country if they are accompanied by their legal guardian.
All three of the Korean youth prospects arrived in Barcelona in 2011. They were allowed to sign under Spanish laws, but none of their situations correspond with the FIFA exceptions. Lee is a high-profile prospect, scoring 12 goals in 19 matches in the under-15 league.