Footballmerates Are the Future


What is a footballmerate? Footballmerates are kind of like franchising. When I say franchising, I'm not talking about the term franchise as used in American sports. I'm talking about franchising as in business, where corporations open multiple locations globally to maximize their reach and influence. In this case, we are heading for a future where the biggest football clubs spread their wings globally by creating ownership groups that own multiple teams under one brand.

There doesn't seem to be a term for this modern development yet when it comes to football, so I'm going to label them Footballmerates, a play on the term conglomerate, which is used in the business world to define a host of businesses operating under one corporate roof.

Now away from that Frankenstein's monster of a term, you may think football fans are too traditional and sentimental for something like this to work, evident by the staunch opposition to the Super League. To that, I'd argue that money talks and Footballmerates offer a more subtle manner for commercial groups to hijack the sport. The club can keep most of its identity and what makes it unique, but underneath it is a corporation and a board benefiting from the on and off-the-field advantages of a Footballmerate, all while the fanbase remains unsuspecting.

If the world and sports are becoming increasingly globalized, why not plant yourself firmly behind the wheel and direct your future?

We already have two vibrant examples of this model. City Football Group are earmarked by Manchester City. The other example is the RedBull franchise, most famous for RB Leipzig. The two groups have shown that the benefits of a model like this may be too great for other clubs to ignore much longer.

Let's start with the off-field benefits by examining CFG.

The group owns a team in 12 countries and 5 continents, most of which sport the same light blue shade of the City kit. 

So everywhere you look, you think of the club's connection to Manchester City in one way or the other. It all helps to increase the global popularity of Manchester City, the club at the very top of the pyramid, leading to more commercial success for the cooperation and brand behind it all.

Manchester City - England

• Girona - Spain

• Lommel SK - Belgium

• ES Troyes AC - France

• Palermo - Italy

• Yokohama F. Marinos - Japan

• Sichuan Jiuniu - China

• Mumbai City FC - India

• Montevideo City Torque - Uruguay

• Esporte Clube Bahia - Brazil

• New York City FC - United States

• Melbourne City FC - Australia

These aren't small clubs either; we are talking largely followed clubs in their own right who compete for trophies year in and out. In the last 16 months, four of those teams won their domestic league (Manchester City, Melbourne City FC, New York City FC, and Mumbai City FC).

This model is slightly different but also applies to the RedBull corporation. RB Leipzig is the primary beneficiary of a group spanning six clubs, five countries, and two continents. 

The trademark Redbull logo on the jersey is impossible to miss, this time drawing attention back to the famous energy drink brand behind it all.

As other clubs recognize the benefits Manchester City and RB Leipzig are reaping from an increased global presence thanks to their footballmerates, they will soon seek their own slice of the phenomenon.

And the clubs at the bottom of the pyramid? They benefit from the financial influx of belonging to a wealthy group. The upgraded equipment, training facilities, and staffing capabilities are the start of the advantages. You also have the sharing of intellectual property across the pyramid on the best and latest management and coaching methods.

For example, Pep Guardiola may arguably be the greatest asset of the CFG. He brings them the footballing credibility a machine-like corporation like themselves desperately needs. Their corporate existence is the direct antithesis of the artistic and personal nature of the sport, and that rubs many the wrong way. But while you may hate the CFG and what they stand for, you cannot deny Pep Guardiola's football acumen. Nor can you deny the massive impact he has had on the sport. Then you have the coaching insights and methods he offers to the rest of the clubs and how invaluable that is in the age of constantly shifting tactics. The clubs in the CFG essentially get insights into the latest recipe Guardiola is cooking up.

This point leads to the on-field benefits of why an approach like this will soon catch on.

If you're well-versed in football history, you may conclude that affiliate programs are nothing new since clubs have had official and unofficial partnerships for years. For example, in the last decade, it was commonplace to see Chelsea loan their youth prodigies, who weren't quite ready for the first team, to Vitesse, a club in the Dutch First Division. The Eredivisie represented a quality introduction to professional football in a league not as intense as the Premier League. And Vitesse benefited from the influx of free young talent to help maintain their status in the first division. It was a win-win, as players like Nemanja Matic, Mason Mount, Dominic Solanke, Matt Miazga, and Armando Broja all cut their teeth with high-level professional football, helping Vitesse succeed and reach new heights. 

Look at the 2016/17 season, where the trio of Lewis Baker, Matt Miazga, and Nathan, all either 20 or 21 years old and on loan from Chelsea, led Vitesse to the first-ever major trophy in its 125-year history, all starting in the Dutch Cup final. And although none of those three went on to have long careers at Chelsea, someone like Mason Mount did, who spent the following season on loan at Vitesse and went on to be named their player of the year and Dutch League team of the season. There have been 29 such loans between Chelsea and Vitesse in just over a decade.

But that was an unspoken partnership, the two clubs remained independent entities, so when FIFA came down with a new law in 2022 limiting how many players a club can loan out, unofficial relationships like Vitesse and Chelsea took a big hit. In fact, the 2021-22 season marked the first time since 09/10 where Vitesse did not have a single player on loan from Chelsea at the club.

Footballmerates allow clubs to modernize the utilization of loans as a means of player development.

With a footballmerate, a club can use its other members as an unofficial loan farm. For example, if Manchester City wants to sign a player but he is not yet at the level needed, rather than signing him and limiting themselves with restrictive loan rules, they can have a partner sign him and then pick up the contract at a later date. That partner can be any of the clubs in the CFG depending on different factors from age, to skill, to nationality; the sky is the limit. For the partner, they get the benefit of a promising talent and a transfer fee later on- and for Manchester City, they get to send the player on an unofficial loan, knowing he will be playing at a club that mimics a lot of Guardiola's practice and tactical methods. The advantages of a system like this are immeasurable. It eliminates the uncertainty associated with loaning a player to a club with its own board and needs.

The RedBull corporation serves as an outstanding example. They have a pyramid system that benefits all its members and feeds RB Leipzig at the very top. 

RB Salzburg, the second most important club in the pyramid, has a feeder club, RB Liefering, purchased in 2012 for that reason. Liefering is in the Austrian second division, and the squad's average age is 18, seven years younger than the oldest team in the league. So rather than playing in the academy, Salzburg's best U19 players are sent to Liefering to battle against grown men in the Austrian second division. RB Salzburg U19 won the UEFA Youth Champions league in 2017 and finished second in 2022, using a team filled with Lieferling players.

Then, much like Lieferling serves as an official feeder to Salzburg, Salzburg serves as an unofficial feeder to Leipzig. Their footballmerate will sign a younger player that is not quite ready for Leipzig and send him to Salzburg. Salzburg emulates Leipzig's tactical approach, so the player develops into the perfect player for the system. A few years later, when the product is ready, the player transfers from Salzburg to Leipzig for a minimal fee, and the rest is history. They've done it nearly 20 times since 2010. It's a potent and unmatched recipe. For example:

  • Peter Gulasci left Salzburg for Leipzig in 2015, later becoming one of the best keepers in the Bundesliga.
  • Naby Keita joined Salzburg as a 19-year-old in 2014. He left for Leipzig in 2016, who later flipped him to Liverpool for a 40 million profit.
  • Salzburg signed Dayot Upemancano as a 17-year-old in 2015 and immediately sent him to play his first professional season at Lieferling. He broke into the first team the next season, and the year after that, he left Salzburg for Leipzig. Four years later, they flipped him to Bayern for a profit.
  • Benjamin Sesko and Dominik Szoboszlai, two highly coveted young stars, are well in line to receive the same treatment. They both find themselves at Leipzig after initially signing for Salzburg at 16 years old and spending a few seasons with Lieferling in the Austrian second division.

So if you're a club like Arsenal or Juventus, looking to find organic ways to develop young talent in your style while receiving first-division minutes in Europe, why not look into becoming the head of an ownership group? The answer may be no today, but it'll look more and more enticing as you see clubs like Manchester City and Leipzig reaping the benefits from this while you stand on the side.

Another on-field benefit is the scouting capabilities an approach like this gives you.

There is only one Barcelona capable of churning out a host of World Class talents from La Masia every few years. Everyone else must find a different path. The race to discover talent is no longer local for the biggest teams in Europe; it is global, reaching across countries and continents from one corner to the other. Manchester City has expanded its academy by 12-fold because of the other clubs in the CFG. Not to mention the intangible benefits of having an academic hub in a dozen countries. And again, they don't all have to head to Manchester City immediately, but you bet they'll have the inside scoop if that player ever shows World Class potential.

The benefits are endless and what history tells us is soccer is becoming increasingly more commercialized. There are rumors that Liverpool may be looking to do something similar in the foreseeable future, as is Chelsea under new owner Todd Boehly.

Clubs are accustomed to pivoting their approach to fight wars on new fronts in desperation for relevance. There was a time when clubs exclusively relied on their academies to provide talent, then clubs began scouting and signing players from all regions, and that approach soon changed. There was a time when fans would malign takeovers from mega-wealthy owners, then they saw their club left behind by the Chelseas and PSGs of the world, and their tune changed to hoping for a takeover of their own. And soon, we will arrive at a time where the biggest European clubs seek their slice of Footballmeration.

I am also not here to tell you whether this is good or bad. I just want to prepare you for what the future of the sport we have loved for so long will resemble. Either way, I'll remain a fan of the beautiful game because all that matters is a ball and two goalposts.

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