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Football red tape is blocking Brazilian player Rafael Kneif from joining a club in England or Italy during this month’s transfer window.

Kneif is owed five months of wages by Romania's FC Ceahlaul which entered administration, or bankruptcy protection, in June and under a national insolvency law does not have to pay players - or release them - until it restructures its finances.

The unpaid footballers are treated as assets rather than workers by Romanian administrators because of their value on the transfer market. Kneif's contract doesn't expire until May.

“I’m trapped, I can’t work,” the 23-year-old Kneif said. “I’m losing precious time and opportunities with every day of the transfer window that passes.”

Kneif has not played football since he left Romania for his family's home in Sorocaba, Brazil last June. FC Ceahlaul subsequently asked him to return to the squad even though it hasn’t paid him and didn’t give him the money to buy his plane ticket back to Europe. 

He is owed about 7,000 euros in wages. Overall, the club has debts totaling 575,000 euros in salaries to players and staff, according to a creditor list seen by Romania’s Association of Professional and Amateur Players (AFAN).

“I am not so worried about what they owe me but how this will affect my career,” Kneif said. He didn't want to disclose the name of clubs interested in signing him unless it dampens their interest.

His family in Brazil had to pay his bills while he was in Romania on a Brazilian credit card. His mother, Adriana, has written to both FIFPro and FIFA to ask help to free him from his contract.

“He’s a human being and should be treated like one,” Mrs Kneif said. “I’ve read stories about Romanian footballers who have to pick tomatoes to earn a living because they don’t have any money."

The Romanian players' union says that hundreds of footballers in that country are in a similar situation to Kneif because 22 clubs are in administration. 

Under FIFA rules, footballers can request to break their contracts after three months without pay but only if they make a succesful appeal to a tribunal. The process can typically take two years, according to research by FIFPro.

FIFPro in September filed a complaint to the European Commission calling the transfer system unjustified and illegal. The commission has asked FIFA to respond to the complaint.

“I heard about FIFPro’s campaign (#GameChangers) to change the transfer system and that’s why I got in contact with you," Mrs Kneif told FIFPro. "The players are completely in the hands of the clubs.”

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