Is Camilo gone? Probably.

Whether or not Camilo is contract is valid, he's wearing a Queretaro F.C. shirt. He's probably gone. (Photo Club_Querétaro/Twitter)

Whether or not Camilo’s contract is valid, he’s wearing a Queretaro F.C. shirt. He’s probably gone. (Photo Club_Queretaro/Twitter)

In weird off-season transfer sagas, the safest position to take is “I’ll believe it when I see him in the shirt.”

So on January 1, when ESPN Deportes reported that Querétaro F.C., a club with a strange history in Mexico’s top division, were about to sign Camilo and the Whitecaps denied they had agreed to any such thing, the safe money was on waiting and seeing. And on Monday, when Querétaro’s twitter account published photos of Camilo in the Mexican club’s kit, no amount of money seemed safe any more.

This debacle seems complex, and it is, but it can be boiled down to this: Camilo’s 2012 contract extension gave the Whitecaps the option to renew automatically without negotiation, which the Whitecaps did in November. Camilo’s camp doesn’t believe they have to submit to that extension and, after his pretty impressive 22-goal 2013 season, looked for a deal and found one in Mexico, where ESPN reported his transfer was seen as a done deal as early as December 17.

So, what’s about to happen? Regardless of whether or not club options are legal (and Ben Massey has written a great post on that topic), there are FIFA rules that permit breaking contract, with penalties, in the off-season. (Open your FIFA Regulations on the Status and Transfer of Players copybook now.) But when it comes to international transfers, matters are a bit more hazy.

The Canadian Soccer Association must pass Camilo’s “soccer passport”, called an International Transfer Certificate, to Mexico before a Mexican team can sign him. When Querétaro asks, the CSA, which has provided proof of Camilo’s registration, must say no, and then we’re heading to arbitration.

The former association shall not issue an ITC if a contractual dispute has arisen between the former club and the professional. In such a case, the professional, the former club and/or the new club are entitled to lodge a claim with FIFA. (Annexe 3, 1.2)

While FIFA could annul the contract, the rules only explicitly forbid breaking contract during a season. What we’re dealing with, now, are issues of punishment: should Camilo and Querétaro be hit with fines and suspensions for this, or were they acting within their rights?

Either way, Camilo is wearing a Querétaro shirt. He can’t sign a contract until the FIFA hearing, which has 60 days to reach a conclusion, and appeals complete; since those regulations handle sporting sanctions before making any decision on the ITC, that could be a very long time. (Querétaro just played its first game of the Liga MX winter season last Friday.)

Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi told reporters that the club hopes the self-evident nature of Camilo’s contract will make their case for them. “The process in world football is pretty straightforward… the CSA will the look at his contractual status, realize that he’s bound to the Whitecaps, they’ll send the information back to the Mexican federation and say that he’s signed, you can’t sign him,” he said. “The club has acknowledged receipt of the documentation, we’re assuming that they’re going to back off, but they’ll need to take the next step.”

It is unlikely that Queretaro is going to back off. According to these two articles (and I’m going off of Google Translate here), the club was relegated last year. Its owners’ response: purchase Liga MX team Jaguares de Chiapas and move it to the city of Querétaro. This created a strange relocation carousel that resulted in Chiapas and Querétaro retaining top-division teams. Regardless of whether or not Camilo’s contract is valid, we can assume that this is not a club that is likely to beg off with an “oops, my bad” and flip him back to Vancouver.

So it all comes down to Camilo. Lenarduzzi said he thought that Camilo was misled: “I really believe that the situation has been misrepresented to Camilo,” he said. “I think he’s put a lot of faith in an agent and has gone with the agent’s advise and has got himself into a situation where it doesn’t look good on him.” But Lenarduzzi also said that Camilo has been contacted twice by the club since this story started, and informed that he wasn’t free to go.

Realistically, there’s nothing stopping Camilo from turning around and coming back to the Whitecaps; he’s not under contract in Mexico, after all. Querétaro, who announced they had signed DaMarcus Beasley last month before retracting the announcement, could decide it’s too much work and close the door on the deal. The Whitecaps might get money, and Camilo and his new club might get punished. Either way, FIFA is unlikely to stop it from happening.

Regardless of whether or not his agent was right to say that he could duck the club option, Camilo chose to do it. The club told him he was in the wrong, and he didn’t come back to Vancouver. He’s in Mexico wearing another team’s shirt.

You can now safely assume that he wants to stay there.

EDIT: Querétaro’s president has told a journalist the club hasn’t signed Camilo (which makes sense, because of the ITC situation) and all of the tweets and publicity have been deleted. Cold feet? Maximum penalty for the club for aiding in the breaking of a contract is a two-window transfer ban. The story continues.