There are many aspects of modern football that don’t sit well with fans. Whether it’s over-the-top salaries, the increase in player-power or ballooning TV subscriptions, we can all agree with the “game’s gone” sentiment to a certain extent.
Multi-club ownership (MCO) is another factor to be considered and something that has made its way into the sport since the turn of the century.
What are the main issues to examine when discussing MCOs? Are there any benefits to MCOs which fans should be more aware of?
In order to answer these questions, we must look at real-life examples of MCOs. The best examples are City Football Group (CFG) and energy-drink giants, Red Bull.
Sheikh Mansour – listed as the deputy prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and a member of the UAE’s royal family – owns CFG as a part of the Abu Dhabi United Group (ADUG).
Mansour’s ADUG first dipped its toes into football ownership when taking control of Manchester City in 2008. Mansour then created CFG and the group stated its objective was to own a club in every continent with the word ‘City’ in its name. Manchester City have since gone on to enjoy their most successful era as a professional football club and are favourites to retain the Premier League title this May.
CFG has gone about its business with an admirable devotion to achieving world recognition in football circles. CFG added New York City FC to its portfolio in 2012, as well as acquiring the Manchester City Women’s team. In 2014, Mansour and co’s attention turned to Australia’s A-League, taking over Melbourne Heart and re-branding them to be known as Melbourne City FC. CFG then acquired Club Atletico Torque in Uruguay as well as Girona in La Liga (shared control with Pep Guardiola’s brother, Pere) during 2017. Sichuan Jiuniu FC (China) and Yokohama F. Marinos (Japan) are also now controlled by CFG.
True to their word, CFG now has control of professional football teams within six countries, spread over four continents throughout the world. The group’s purpose was to take advantage of football’s growth potential by investing heavily in the sport globally.
It’s no secret that Manchester City is CFG’s prize possession and, as such, their other clubs may find their most talented individuals transferred to City without the need for much negotiation. City’s youngsters may also find themselves loaned out to one of the other CFG clubs – most likely Girona in La Liga – to develop further with the aim of returning to the Premier League as better, more experienced players.
Recently, Manchester City have become embroiled in talk of Financial Fair Play (FFP) regulations being broken. German publication, Der Spiegel, has leaked documents which claim to show evidence of FFP violations by Sheikh Mansour’s club. At the time of going to press, there are no further details to discuss. However, is this another grey area which has been allowed to rear its head because of MCOs? It’s a lot easier for a talented ‘accountant’ to hide any financial discrepancies within the books of several clubs. We shall have to wait and see what emerges from the Der Spiegel story.
The other notable MCO in world football is that of Red Bull. The Austrian energy drink company has stakes in many sports including football, motorsport and air-races amongst others.
Red Bull stepped into the world of football with its acquisition of SV Austria Salzburg in 2005. The club was renamed Red Bull Salzburg. In the same year, Red Bull moved to the MLS to take over MetroStars, changing the club’s name to New York Red Bulls.
In 2007, Red Bull took the extra step of creating a new club from scratch, this time in Brazil. The team was called Red Bull Brasil of Sao Paulo – Red Bull Brasil for short.
The last club Red Bull took over has been their most notable football venture to date. Little-known German lower-league team SSV Markranstadt was purchased and the name was changed to RasenBallsport Leipzig. The club was situated close to Leipzig but Red Bull could not use their brand name due to sponsorship laws in the Bundesliga.
RasenBallsport Leipzig is referred to as RB Leipzig so Red Bull’s naming ploy seems to have worked wonders. No matter what the Bundesliga’s sponsorship rulings, we all think of Red Bull when we hear the RB in the Leipzig club’s name.
Red Bull have overseen a huge transition at RB Leipzig with the club now an established team within Bundesliga I having started in German football’s fifth tier.
Last season, RB Leipzig came second in the Bundesliga and, therefore, qualified for the Champions League for the first time. Yet, they are widely regarded as the most hated club in the country because of their less than traditional route to the top.
In this season’s Europa League competition, RB Leipzig and RB Salzburg were drawn together in Group B alongside Celtic and Rosenborg. And thus, another complication came to the fore.
Surely there is a conflict of interests when clubs owned by the same organisation are drawn in direct opposition to each other in UEFA’s second-largest club tournament? How can there not be? What if Red Bull had decided to focus on RB Leipzig’s growth in world football? Would RB Salzburg players be asked to throw the games? As it happened, RB Salzburg actually won the group with RB Leipzig limping out of the competition in third place, behind Celtic.
Is UEFA prepared for such situations? The question is if any safeguards can be put in place to protect the sport against corruption or other unwanted elements which can arise due to MCOs.
There can be benefits too. Look at RB Leipzig. Yes, the side may be hated as a club but it has enjoyed an almost-unparalleled uphill trajectory since Red Bull’s takeover. What is also notable is how its been achieved. RB Leipzig has never splashed huge transfer fees or salaries around. The club went about its business, under the guidance of Ralf Rangnick, by creating ideal operational and football templates for all of their clubs to follow. The club boasts an enviable scouting setup which seems to unearth hidden gems from the lower leagues or less-known countries almost every year. That’s something to aspire to and a great example for the middle-of-the-road clubs to follow in its quest to reach their goals.
MCOs may not be the scourge on football which many fans believe it to be. Yet, it simply has to be governed extensively with new guidelines set out for this emerging component in the sport.