LONDON, ENGLAND - AUGUST 27: Romelu Lukaku of Chelsea looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Norwich City at Stamford Bridge on August 27, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
A few minutes ago, I was rather caught out by A Bola claiming that Chelsea had offered Romelu Lukaku's registration as part of an exchange for Alvaro Pereira, to the point where I threatened some sort of horrible arson if it proved true. Fortunately, wisdom prevailed over the setting-stuff-on-fire part of my brain and I eventually went through the FIFA regulations on transfers in order to find out a reason it couldn't possibly be true that Lukaku could move again this window - a rule that would also clear up what happened with the rumblings of a loan to Stoke City that was apparently called off due to a technicality.
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. As an exception to this rule, a player moving between two clubs belonging to associations with overlapping seasons (i.e. start of the season in summer/autumn as opposed to winter/spring) may be eligible to play in official matches for a third club during the relevant season, provided he has fully complied with his contractual obligations towards his previous clubs.
I cited said rule as an update in the A Bola rumour Thread of Doom, but it's interesting enough that I want to expand on it, and since it's my blog and I do what I want, here goes.
Lukaku has appeared in a competitive match for Chelsea, making a 20-minute cameo against Norwich City, and he's also appeared in a competitive match for Anderlecht in the Belgian Juliper league, making a start and scoring* in their first match of the season on the 29th of July (they lost, 2-1, to Oud-Heverlee). The Lukaku fee was agreed a week later, and the striker did not appear for Anderlecht again.
*I think he missed a penalty too, but don't quote me on that. (Unless I'm right. Then you can quote me.)
Those 110-odd minutes of football have ensured, thanks to good old Article 5.3, that Lukaku cannot play in a competitive match for any team but Chelsea (or Anderlecht, I guess, if you wanted to get really silly with things) for the rest of the season. Most teams acquire players of Lukaku's calibre to use them in competitive matches, because as a paperweight he's far less appealing - it's pretty safe to say no team will buy a player they can't use for the rest of the year. This is why the 18-year-old couldn't be sent to Stoke City, not because the Premier League has a rule about buying-and-loaning to its clubs.
The reason, say, Ulises Davila could be loaned to Vitesse Arnhem after coming over from Chivas de Guadalajara a few days ago is that he never saw the pitch for Chelsea. If Lukaku hadn't come on for Fernando Torres in the 84th minute of the Norwich game, he could have gone out on loan again (but it would have to be a season-long deal). That cameo might have been a pretty cool debut, but it was a really costly one in terms of Chelsea's squad flexibility, assuming they had any intention of sending him out to develop, which we know Lukaku would have opposed anyway.
So, yeah, automatically disregard any rumours regarding Lukaku moving on loan or permanently until at least next May. I wish I'd known this two hours ago.