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December 2020
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After City Group and Red Bull now a third group: it’s the future of football

by Tony Attwood

Once upon a time football clubs were independent.  Then Arsenal had the bright idea of taking over nearly bankrupt Margate, and turning them into a nursery club.

No one had thought of that idea before.  People talked of it ruining a part of the town’s heritage (even though crowds were tiny, and the finances were dire).

Arsenal moved some of its young players, plus some of the reserves to play for Margate.  The crowds rolled up.  The club even went on its own European tour.  The FA mumbled a bit but didn’t seem moved to knock the venture down – after all there was nothing in the rules against it.

But then the copycats joined in.  First Tottenham, and then others until everyone in the 1st Division was at it, and finally the FA and League said “no!” and that was that.

In the modern era, we have the City Group.  Started in 2008 with the purchase of Manchester City it now contains New York City FC, Melbourne City, Yokohama Marinos, Montevideo City Torque, Girona, Sichuan Jiuniu, Mumbai City and Lommel SK.   No one has moved to stop them.

The along came Red Bull.   They have a portfolio of over 30 teams including a multiplicity of sports.  In football thus far they are limited to RB Leipzig, New York Red Bulls, Red Bull Brasil, FC Red Bull Salzburg.

They take over clubs, change their stadia, change their colours, change their name, change what they stand for.  Tradition is not part of the deal.  There are stories of supporters who turn up wearing the pre-RB colours of the club being forcibly ejected from the ground.

And third we have Core Sports Capital who are joining the fun.

They started with Clermont Foot 63 (France) and Lustenau (Austria).  Now their owner Ahmet Schaefer has just bought a Danish club making it three clubs in 18 months.   And in case we think that these are all tiny teams going nowhere, Lustenau won the Cup in Austria this year.

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And who is this Ahmet Schaefer, I hear you cry.   Well he was Sepp Blatter’s former personal assistant at Fifa.  Blatter is still banned from football, so can’t be in on the event, but he can of course talk to his mates – and so has most likely been talking with Schaefer.

Core Sports Capital oversees the whole affair from Switzerland, and provides the central services such as scouting management, data performance or communication. “The objective is to exploit the synergies offered by the holding company. And to give clubs opportunities they could not have on their own.  Clubs that are not strong enough to be promoted, but too strong to be relegated,” said Schaefer.

And this is not a rich man waving his stomach around so others have to dodge, for Schaefer has surrounded himself with experts: For this, the Zurich financier has surrounded himself with experts, including Jérôme Champagne, former number 3 of Fifa, responsible for strategic affairs and communication.  And there is Ingo Winter, former director of recruitment, at Young Boys and at Kaiserlautern.

Ahmet Schaefer is not predicting other immediate moves for clubs but he does not rule it out.   Speaking of where  the operation is going he said, “Taking over a club is not easy… Everything must go well on a personal level. Each club represents 50 people, 50 demands, problems or potential opportunities.”

However, he also indicates that if opportunities arise, nothing is excluded. “We also looked in Switzerland, confirms Jérôme Champagne. Football is very interesting there, but we have yet to find any candidates who meet our criteria. ”

And these criteria are quite strict. The club must be financially and structurally sound, the presence in the region must be strong, and the loyalty of the fans historic.

Pascal Gastien, Clermont coach and voted Ligue 2 coach of the year, set out the principles of the business to his counterparts and the media.

“Ultimately, Core Sport Capital hopes to see all of its clubs join their respective national top divisions.  For now, our structure is holding up well, even though football as a whole is weakened.”

As for the transfer market, we are told that “Some players who were financially inaccessible before the pandemic are now interesting. The high number of players in the market is putting downward pressure on wages. Now is the time to spot the talented players who have gone under the radar, those who are not yet renowned for being dear ones. With three clubs, we have more flexibility. ”

So will they buy a club in England?  Certainly there are a number of League One and Championship clubs who would love the chance to join the group.  And given that world football and the Premier League has let Manchester City do what it likes, it would seem impossible to stop a third group getting clubs in England.

 

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