The Definitive Guide to Multi-Club Ownership Part 7: ‘Best’ of the Rest & The Future of MCOs

Episode 1 – Introduction to MCOs + The Pozzo Group

Episode 2 – City Football Group

Episode 3 – FC Nordsjælland

Episode 4 – Atletico Madrid

Episode 5 – Red Bull

Episode 6 – Roland Duchâtelet

Vincent Tan

Vincent Tan started his footballing venture back in May 2010 with the acquisition of 30% of Championship side Cardiff City. Tan wasted no time in promising the world, including an investment of over £100m for stadium improvements and a new training ground but came with the drawback of changing the club’s iconic kit from blue to red, and changing the logo of a bluebird into a dragon. Obviously there was a huge protest from the club’s supporters and the plans were later scrapped (and were later revisited with some compromises that have since gone through). Investment helped get Cardiff promoted to the Premier League for the 13/14 season, although their time in the top-flight was limited, getting relegated the same season.

Tan expanded his empire in December 2013, buying Bosnian club FK Sarajevo. Tan again made promises, stating that “We also want to build a football academy that will attract the most talented players from all Bosnia and Herzegovina. We will offer them excellent conditions for training and will enable them to play in one of the best leagues in the world. Bosnia is full of talents. We have already concluded an agreement on cooperation between the two clubs. Cardiff City will also provide technical support in building an academy, we will play friendlies, exchange players and organise joint training camps.”

Tan completed his portfolio in May 2015 with the purchase of Belgian club K.V Kortrijk for €5m, not much was said about his reasoning behind the purchase other than he saw growth and potential in the club and wouldn’t change the club’s identity like he did with Cardiff.

Despite Tan’s promises, only three players have publicly moved between the 3 clubs, and is most likely an under-utilised relationship. Much like Duchâtelet, I’m not overly convinced by Tans ownership so far. I have no doubts that he had a plan, but the subsequent relegation may have put a spanner in the works. Cardiff’s recruitment since the relegation also raises question marks, whilst they’ve got a solid Championship team, it’s not a team that should realistically be able to compete for promotion.

Significant investment is needed, as well as potentially a Director of Football for the Tan trio of teams for Cardiff to reach the big-time once more, and for Tan to operate a successful well-run MCO.

Matthew Benham

Professional gambler Matthew Benham became majority shareholder for then League 1 side Brentford back in 2012, adding Danish side FC Midtjylland in July 2014. Benham being a firm believer in analytics adopted a new approach for his teams focusing firmly on key performance indicators to establish how their teams are doing (rather than just looking at the score), he also was of the belief that set-pieces were undervalued and hired set piece coaches to enhance his team’s chances.

The system worked as Brentford won promotion to the Championship and FC Midtjylland won their first ever title. There’s plenty of articles out there going into much better and more detail than I shall here about Benhams unique approach of running a football club (and I do recommend researching it a bit more!). Benhams long-term ambition for the clubs is unclear (despite obviously aiming for promotion to the Premier League with Brentford), player movement between the 2 teams has been non-existent and FC Midtjylland haven’t won the title since their league win in 14/15, however have made the Europa League every year since Benham took charge.

I’m unsure whether Benham will add to his portfolio of clubs, but his take on the game is certainly one to keep an eye on.

Fiorentina/Pune City

Fiorentina helped set-up FC Pune City in the Indian Super League in 2014, to promote and develop football within the area. No long-term plans have been announced, but I’d imagine Fiorentina are looking to potentially get first refusal on any future talent that may emerge from the area.

Inter Milan/Jiangsu Suning

June 2016 saw Suning Holdings group purchase Inter Milan for an estimated €270m, Suning Holdings also own Chinese Super League side Jiangsu Suning. The price they paid for Inter suggests that they’ll be investing a significant amount of money in an attempt to restore Inter Milan back to glory, and the €70m+ investment on new players last summer is testament to that fact.

They’ve just hired Walter Sabatini who’ll act as technical director of both Jiangsu Suning and Inter Milan and “be in charge of development work, including planning for players and coaches, international scouting and medical systems.” So whilst they definitely have a plan for the 2 clubs, it may take a while for the owners vision to be implemented.

Ajax

As ever Ajax were ahead of the curve, creating Ajax Cape Town in South Africa all the way back in 1999. Movement of players between the 2 clubs has been relatively limited, although Ajax have had some success bringing players such as Steven Pienaar, Daylon Claasen, Eyong Enoh and Thulani Serero from Ajax Cape Town into the Ajax system who combined have made over 280 appearances for Ajax.

The players are trained in the Ajax methodology, and the club often promote players from their academy into the first team – keeping in line with the Ajax ethos. Further to that Ajax Cape Town do plenty of community work with their community scheme being taught at 140 schools across South Africa.

Whilst Ajax don’t too often produce first team ready players from Ajax Cape Town, the financial outlay must be relatively low and producing players who have made almost 300 appearances for the first team means it must’ve almost paid for itself in the long-run. It’ll be interesting to see if Ajax open up any schools elsewhere in the world.

The Future of MCOs

MCOs have now infiltrated the game in a big way, and I genuinely think that in 15-20 years pretty much every club in the top flight of Spain/England/Germany will have a another club elsewhere in the world. We’re already seeing the early signs of a scramble as clubs rush to buy clubs in ideal countries (soon to be joined by Leicester and Monaco who are apparently in deals to sign Belgian clubs OH Leuven and Cercle Brugge) and it won’t be long until a full-scale rush kicks off.

Clubs in Belgium, Holland and Scandinavia look to be the best picks due to location, the quality of the leagues, lack of work permits and the local talent pool, however I also wouldn’t be surprised if cash-rich MCOs like Atletico Madrid and the City Football Group decide to also adopt the Nordsjaelland/Ajax method and open football schools in Africa to bring through talent into their other clubs – who might not be ready for the top flight in Spain or England.

We will definitely see more companies such as Red Bull joining in as well. Despite not turning a profit yet, I’m sure that is Red Bulls eventual aim and is obviously a fantastic advert for their brand. The influx of investments from booming economic markets such as China will also help this along.

The nature of the game is evolving and owners will have to embrace it or fear missing out in the future, but one thing is for sure – MCOs are here to stay.