Strasbourg announced today the signing of promising right back Pedro Lima. For Strasbourg this seems to be quite the coup, but they are not the ones who will benefit. Lurking behind this move is Chelsea, as they show the rest of Europe how the future of football will look.

Multi-club ownership’s influence continues to grow across Europe. Clubs, specifically City and Chelsea, see this as the true future of the sport.

While certain clubs formed partnerships over the development of players, one only needs to look at Chelsea and Vitesse, this is a new creation. Unlike the previously mentioned partnership, this new era hinges on owning the partner club. Smaller clubs become engulfed into the consortium of enterprises acting as sports clubs.

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In almost every way, this is the future of the sport. Clubs hedge their bets on these smaller clubs to develop players without committing to them. Strasbourg may or may not develop Lima, but Chelsea remains the omniscient presence waiting to step in if successful. 

Any agency becomes removed from the “feeder club”, as they become an appendage to a machine. With so many leagues and teams financially struggling, this is truly a devil at the crossroads moment.

Perhaps the best way to conceptualize this growing trend is comparing it to minor league baseball. While cities across the US passionately root for their teams, they are, at the end of the day, franchises that belong to often distant conglomerates.

When comparing this to MiLB, it’s important to remember that with the amount of players in the MLB pipeline, teams can’t develop them all. Meaning that even the best players at 18 spend years in the lower leagues developing their skills at relative clubs. Once a player shows enough promise then they are promoted.

Football works like this as well. Not every academy player gets a run with the first team, it’s why loans are so vital. They give the player a chance at a good level while giving the receiving club a talented player for essentially free.

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As previously mentioned, this system allowed for certain clubs to develop bonds over these moves. Chelsea and Vitesse remain the best example because of the success both parties had.

The Dutch side helped develop the likes of Mason Mount and Tammy Abraham while Chelsea continued building their title sides. It worked so well because Vitesse still managed to keep their identity as a standalone club.

Unlike their American counterparts, “feeder” clubs like Vitesse in this system kept their agency. Chelsea could have cut ties at any point and Vitesse wouldn’t have died. Perhaps this is why Vitesse never got invited to the new franchise system of the Blues.

Any avid Football Manager fan can attest to the importance of the loan system. While the system likely will keep living, the moment more clubs are swallowed by the elites, death arrives.

On paper, one can argue that clubs that may have been in precarious situations are saved by larger clubs “adopting” them. Top class players develop at their club, while fans feel that they are part of a bigger movement. 

Fans eventually just cheer on franchises when clubs like City and Chelsea take over. Even when Girona finished third in La Liga this season, it felt hollow. The joy and passion of fans replaced with the faceless reaction of the modern conglomerate sports club.

Every new addition to the portfolio becomes another franchise added. It’s a little different in practice to McDonald’s buying space to build restaurants, but the spirit remains. One imagines club after club swallowed just to save some return on investment for clubs that don’t need it.

Underlying this all are two things really, an aversion of dealing with risk and losing control. Delegating the majority of these responsibilities to clubs that you’re trapping allows you to avoid looking like a failure.

As Chelsea learned with the Mudryk signing, not all promising talents develop the same. It’s the risk baked into any transfer. In a results driven business where you must give your shareholders results, this is unacceptable.

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Pushing this to your child club puts the onus on them and allows you to reap the rewards eventually or quietly dump the loss. A prime example is Issa Kaboré who followed the City Group path, but failed to develop allowing City to quietly move him around. By putting the problem in someone else’s hands, team owners and administrators win no matter what.

Clubs that have long and decorated pasts become nothing more than a way to ease the worries of administrators. Again, while this may not be the biggest issue plaguing football, it’s part of a Pandora’s box of consequences set forth by the Prem.

While this movement, so far, exists only in the Prem, the safety net it offers is too appealing to not see widespread implementation. Over its 30 plus year existence, the Prem continues to push boundaries in terms of what it unleashes on the sport. This is only the newest in a long line of fascinating changes to the sport spearheaded by this one time breakaway league.


Featured image: Getty

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