Multi-club Ownerships: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Modern day football has brought with it half-and-half scarves, goal-line technology, Fan TV via YouTube, but most significantly excessive revenues – with the latter interesting a new wave of businessmen who are looking to venture into the game and reap the monetary benefits within.

One particular method is through multi-club ownership, which is essentially when an individual, or a group of individuals working as a collective own more than one football club.

Here we touch upon some of the more distinguished multi-club networks and delve into just how such investments have affected the clubs involved.

The Pozzo Family have been immersed in the football business for the past 29 years after Giampaolo Pozzo obtained his beloved Udinese Calcio back in 1986. The Pozzo’s have since expanded their portfolio with the acquisitions of Granada CF in 2009 and Watford FC in 2012.

When Giampaolo began his tenure at Udinese the club were embroiled in a match-fixing scandal for which they were deducted points and relegated, this initially led the club to yo-yo between Serie A and B for several years. The turning point came when Giampaolo drafted his son, Gino Pozzo, into club following his graduation in 1993.

Gino quickly focused his efforts on engineering a different – but rewarding approach towards player recruitment which ended the clubs instability. The masterplan was to broaden the clubs scouting range, identify and secure talent before everybody else and eventually, when the time was right, sell their assets on for substantial profit.

The Pozzo’s subsequently developed one of the largest and most highly-regarded scouting networks in world football. They covered regional championships across South America, Africa and Europe from under-17 to under-21 level, with around 25-30 employees tasked with unearthing and obtaining players from obscurity ahead of the others.

Such method has led to continuous discoveries over the years (including the likes of Marcio Amoroso, Alexis Sanchez and Samir Handanovic) – which helped stabilise Udinese in Italy’s top-flight, where they have become a mainstay for the past 20 years. The club also briefly encountered Champions League football under the new Swansea head coach, Francesco Guidolin.

Gino however continued to seek innovation within the football business and in 2009, he advocated the multi-club ownership concept as a way to complement and expand the potential of the Pozzo Family’s international scouting operation.

Granada CF was the project they targeted, even though they languished in Spain’s third tier (Segunda B4) with debts of up to €13m. Having saved the club from “certain death”, according to Granada’s English Community Manager – Heath Chesters, the Andalusian club then embarked on a meteoric rise to the Primera Liga under the Pozzo’s stewardship, where they are currently enduring their fifth consecutive season.

Granada has grown exceptionally off the pitch during this time and is now completely debt-free, which is something of a rarity in Spain. The Pozzo’s have invested heavily into the structures of the club and have allowed complete access to their scouting network, which ultimately has brought about such success.

However looking at the situation cynically, it could be argued that the Pozzo’s are simply using the club as a ‘holding ground’ for African and South American talents – due to kinder laws such as the Cotonou Agreement and the much more accommodating work permit rulings for South American players in Spain, compared to laws in Italy and England.

Sales of key players such as Brahimi, Murillo, Mikel Rico and Guilherme Siqueira in recent years have also led to some supporters, questioning the Pozzo’s ambition.

“Some Granada fans feel that their club, their passion, is nothing more than a stepping stone for players. Those who feel that’s the case, are those who are growing increasingly disgruntled with the Pozzo family model of management.” explains Chesters

Recently fans have vented their displeasure towards the clubs hierarchy, signified by the scrawling of “mercenaries out of Granada” around Los Carmenes’ walls. Their discontent doesn’t solely stem from the clubs selling mantra either, with El Grana again finding themselves in another relegation battle, having narrowly avoided the drop for the previous two seasons.

“Some remain eternally grateful of what Pozzo, Pina (Club President) and Cordero (Sporting Director) have achieved, given the club remains in the Primera despite suffering to do so on the pitch, and are more patient and are content for them to remain in charge. Others are tired of that “suffering” and feel the current model has gone as far as it can”.

Alternatively, the Pozzo’s first expedition into the English market couldn’t have been received any better by the Watford faithful.

Their time at the club has been described as “open, decisive, committed, innovative and shrewd.” by Watford’s resident Twitter fan, Watford Talk. Their approach has seen the club not only reach the riches of the Premier League but take it by storm this season so far, with the club sitting comfortably in mid-table as we enter the final third of the season.

“They’ve transformed our club on and off the pitch, saved us from a crook of an owner, brought some incredible moments and delivered on their promise of Premier League football. Forgive my gushing but you’ll be hard pressed to find a better owner in world football.” exclaimed Watford Talk.

Whilst there are clearly some immensely beneficial aspects of being a part of an astutely managed football network, clubs who have found themselves in the possession of Roland Duchatelet are unlikely to champion anything remotely positive about the set-up.

The Belgian entrepreneur has amassed a portfolio of clubs since 2011 including Charlton Athletic, FC Carl Zeiss Jena in Germany, UIjpest FC in Hungary and AD Alcoron in Spain. Duchatelet also has an interest in Belgian club Sint-Truiden and has made it abruptly clear he’s purely interested in the game for his own financial gain.

Duchatelet therefore is no stranger to protests during his time in the football business. In recent months disillusioned Charlton Athletic supporters have staged various demonstrations against their clubs ownership, with the editor of Charlton’s fanzine Voice of The Valley, Rick Everitt stating the management of the club has been “increasingly amateurish” since the 69-year-olds takeover in January 2014.

Everitt claims one of the main issues Charlton fans have is with Duchatelet’s appointed chief executive, Katrien Meire. Everitt states “She has made numerous gaffes in interviews and public appearances, including calling fans’ affinity to the club “weird”, expressing surprise that we don’t behave like “customers” of a local restaurant.”

“Fans of longstanding have been angered by the high-handed and apparently disdainful approach of the chief executive, including taking pictures of and laughing at protesting supporters”.

Charlton fans will be hoping such relentless protests will eventually force their owner’s hand in selling the club, something which he reluctantly did when relinquishing control of Standard Liege last summer. He faced what he claimed were “complications” in running the club. With the fans so incensed with his leadership they tried to storm the club’s offices in protest back in 2013.

Ultimately as the financial rewards in the game increase, there will be more parties who will seek significant involvement in the game.

In years to come it’s almost certain we’ll see an abundance of clubs allied by the wealthy, whether its individuals or companies following the path of Red Bull, those with any ties to football should soon prepare for the dominance of the multi-club ownership cult.

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Photo: Getty Images.