By Tony Attwood
If we didn’t know it before the world cup we know it now: football is not just changing as it has always done, but it is changing at a faster pace than ever. Multi-club ownership is already clearly established in the game, just as is corruption at the highest level. In such circumstances anything can be bought and sold, and there are no rules or controls any more.
In essence it appears that Qatar’s requirement to have the world cup in its country, insane and ludicrous as it seems if one takes a step back (no basic interest in football, a totally authoritarian regime, no stadia, total surveillance state, no workforce to build the stadia, no interest in human rights etc) is just the start.
Fifa’s corruption has been well known for decades, but the media’s ability to ignore it and focus on the football, even when that seemed to be producing curious results and curious decisions, has been taken to a new level. Indeed even when the whole show was revealed as a cover for the further corruption of Fifa, and the infiltration of the EU by corrupt politicians and administrators, no one really blinked. (See Huge FIFA corruption story: no report in English media) as just one of many such reports on this site.
Preparing the groundwork for this takeover of football has been the City Football Group with its affiliated clubs stretching across the globe, closely followed by Red Bull with FC Red Bull Salzburg, RB Leipzig, New York Red Bulls, Red Bull Brasil, FC Liefering, and more to come. Then there are the multi-sport corporations, and we need look no further than Arsenal FC, part of the Kroenke group.
Menary in 2021 reckoned there are no less than 60 different multi-clubs groups in football, often still hardly recognised because they only own two or three teams, but they are growing all the time. As ever in England we like to pretend it is not really there and that somehow our game is pure, but how that can be argued in the face of Manchester City’s activities and finances, is hard to see.
The point is the multi-club ownership means both formal and informal links. Increasingly common is a club in the Manchester City group spots a brilliant player that is passing under the radar, and tips off a bigger club in the group to buy him so that no inter-group transfer is seen on the books.
And it has been like this for a long time. ENIC had part ownership in Rangers, Slavia Prague, AEK Athens, Vicenza Calcio, Basel and of course Tottenham Hotspur. When that was recognised, a new rule stopped clubs with the same majority shareholders playing each other in a competition – but that was hardly the point. It was the ability to move players from club to club. And research by Play the Game in October 2021 suggested there were at least sixty multi-club organisations owning 156 clubs including 106 clubs in Europe.
Not all are highly publicised: take Watford and Udinese Calcio, owned by the same families. Play the game found “over 50 transfers between themselves in the past decade.”
Closer to Arsenal is of course KSE which owns St. Louis Rams (American football), Denver Nuggets (basketball), Colorado Avalanche (hockey – ownership later transferred to Mrs Kroenke to overcome the regulations about multi-ownership), Colorado Mammoth (lacrosse), Los Angeles Rams (NFL) and Colorado Rapids (football), and of course Arsenal.
And it goes on. KSE own an esports team called Los Angeles Gladiators, and a club in the Call of Duty league (forgive me I am a little unclear what that is all about, but it seems to involve making money.)
So it goes; so it grows. Clubs in groups – either clubs in different sports or clubs in different countries in the same sports.
Of course there can be benefits; Austin Trusty, now on loan at Birmingham is an early example, and I am not sure we would have got Matt Turner without our American connection.
The point is the game is changing, and the lumbering organisations that are supposed to control the game no longer have any idea how to keep it running. The biggest problem as we have noted before is there is no overarching independent control body for football which is not itself part of the game. There is no regulator of the FA and the League in England and no regulator of Uefa and Fifa on a broader scale – and when you consider just how big football is, that is really, really, dangerous.
It’s a theme we’ll come back to shortly. But in essence, if a full-blooded independent regulator of football emerges, the game could be saved. If not, it will continue to decline into the plaything of the mega-rich and the very powerful. And that might not be the best thing that could happen.
- Arsenal v Tottenham; the team and some rather jolly recent history
- We are running out of referees, and the reason is the PGMO.
- Arsenal v Tottenham: the key fact the media won’t to tell you – and why they won’t
- Arsenal v Tottenham: different clubs, different managers, different successes
- Arsenal v Tottenham with clubs now getting more cards than they put in tackles!