Over the past week, various Premier League ownership groups have begun to purchase smaller clubs around Europe. From Chelsea to the recently relegated Southampton, it’s been part of a growing trend that will have a major impact.
Fans will try to fight against it, but it’s the new reality of the sport.
Strasbourg is just the most recent club to be taken over by one of Europe’s elites. The club will now be part of Boehly and Co’s portfolio as they attempt to follow the trend that is taking over Europe.
City is, in a lot of ways, the prototype that modern football is desperate to follow. No longer just a club, the ownership group has created a corporation out of a football club. Under the umbrella that is the City ownership group are various clubs that act to support the interests of the main team.
It’s a monopolization of the sport that sees unique clubs with strong traditions be seen as little more than a piece of a portfolio. Additionally, under current UEFA rules, it zaps the club with the ability to partake in certain European competitions under certain conditions. As groups try to wring every last penny from the sport, this concerning pattern may only grow.
At some point in the near future, UEFA will have to confront this issue. But will they rule in favor of the sport or its elites?
The modern footballing model is a bastardized version of the MLB farm system. Feeder clubs will act as a cheap system to farm young players.
Manchester City has really perfected this system by having feeder clubs across the world. Allowing them to have connections to regions across the world. From New York to Australia, City’s feeder clubs act as subsidiaries of the larger corporation.
Not only does City get to dictate the plan for the club, but they also have the club adopt the colors and culture of City. NYCFC is an example of this, where the club’s entire identity is just a watered-down version of its parent club.
Transfers within the City tree also give the parent club greater control over the players and fees. To be fair to City, Red Bull are the master of this sort of move. The Red Bull franchises exchange players for seemingly discounted fees to ultimately make the ultimate profit.
By moving the players across their franchises, it gives the club tree immense control over their players. NYCFC has had a number of promising players move within the tree, giving the City group the ability to control the destination of these players. Even the clubs within the tree only act as a farm team rather than their own entity.
As ownerships morph clubs into corporations, the model is being adopted across the world. City may be the most obvious example, but franchises like Red Bull have been doing this for just as long.
Other fans and journalists are rightfully concerned about this monopolistic trend. People shouldn’t be surprised that profit is king to owners, but it’s become more flagrant.
Buying these clubs and introducing them into the larger tree reduces the clubs to a cog in a machine. It negates the beauty of the sides and the uniqueness of an independent club. Fans and players alike become white noise to the machine that is the ownership group.
Take, for example, Vitesse, Chelsea’s farm team, which has lost its identity and become known as Chelsea’s loan team. While Vitesse has found success, there is little acknowledgment of the team outside their connection to Chelsea. Red Bulls’ sides are in an even weirder position where despite their success, they are never seen as anything more than a corporate side.
Ownership groups like City and Red Bull aim to control every aspect of these clubs to have access to high-potential players and their transfer fees. It’s part of a greater drive for control of every aspect of football.
Another consequence of more of these clubs being snapped up is that, by UEFA rules, they could be denied European competition. Currently, UEFA rules prohibit teams owned by the same group to play in the same competition. Ruining the beauty of clubs reaching the ultimate goal of European club football.
Football’s future lies in the drive toward ultimate control from the top down to maximize profit. What’s made this drive more shocking has been how nakedly open it has been.
As more clubs try to control every aspect of club football, fans will have to deal with this new reality.
Rather than being treated as a unique entity with its own history and culture, teams will be seen increasingly as a means by which profit can be extracted. Sports have always been about profit at the highest level, but this more open drive is only alienating more fans.
Photo: Get French Football