FSG’s Pursuit Of Multi-Club Ownership

FSG is moving full steam ahead with purchasing a second football club as part of a multi-club ownership model. Similar to the City Football Group (CFG), who own several clubs around the world united under one umbrella, FSG wants to strengthen its footballing operations with a second club. Mike Gordon insisted in an email to Liverpool staff that this will not distract from Liverpool but in fact “will help strengthen our club for the future.”

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Since the news broke, FSG has moved quickly. Michael Edwards is back, now as FSG’s Head of Football. He’ll oversee both Liverpool and this new club, whatever it is. Richard Hughes, outgoing Bournemouth technical director, is expected to take a similar role at Liverpool. Hughes will essentially step into Edwards’ old job. Reports link Benfica’s technical director Pedro Marquez with an equivalent role at Liverpool.

In other words, this is happening. But for many, this is not welcome at Liverpool.

Just What Is The Multi-Club Model

The multi-club strategy is commonplace in football. CFG is the pioneer, with clubs in Spain, the U.S., Australia, and Japan. Chelsea’s owners, Clearlake Capital, also have a stake in French team Strasbourg. New Manchester United investors INEOS already have a majority stake in another Ligue 1 side, Nice.

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In the FSG announcement, Edwards stated that “to remain competitive, investment and expansion of the current footballing portfolio is necessary”. It’s not a case of stealing a march on rivals so much as not allowing ourselves to fall behind.

Opponents of the multi-club model argue that it’s an inherently exploitative strategy. The so-called “feeder clubs” in the “lesser” leagues become tools for the flagship club’s success. Clubs with their histories, cultures, and fans of their own, become a breeding ground for young players to prove themselves en route to a bigger move. Unwanted players can also be shunted out there on loan, while head coaches and technical staff will also be rotated around without concern for the smaller team’s progress.

For every club like Girona, who have broken into La Liga’s top four under CFG’s banner, there’s a club like Strasbourg – now fighting relegation under Clearlake’s stewardship. Then there’s the example of the Red Bull stable of clubs, where an energy drink corporation consumes a football club and eliminates its history. The pursuit of “synergy” and a “playing philosophy” across a stable of clubs flattens each individual club. There is an erasure of its history, players, and philosophy, into an extension of the rich team at the heart of it.

Not Everyone Can Emulate City

For a club like Manchester City, whose recent past is built on financial superiority and aesthetic perfection, this is a congruent approach. But Liverpool, we’re told, is different. “This means more” etc. The idea is that a football club is an extension of its local community. That the club represents that community’s identity doesn’t feel like a marketing slogan. It feels legit with Liverpool.

So, doesn’t buying up a smaller club elsewhere and using it to “strengthen Liverpool” fly in the face of that?

Maybe. But maybe not.

It’s hard to be a perfect football club owner. If you don’t have huge wealth, your team falls behind and your fans are upset. If you have huge wealth, you have to generate that huge wealth ethically. And how many ethical billionaires do you know?

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While FSG has been far from perfect, they’re not a nation-state or an oligarch. They’re a sporting operation that makes money from succeeding in sports. They have invested money into the squad, the staff, and the club’s facilities. And, crucially, while they have managed to keep Liverpool successful with the nation-state clubs, they’ve preserved the spirit of Liverpool in the process. “This means more” and all that.

If there’s an ownership group that can incorporate a football club into a multi-club system, whilst preserving the spirit and the integrity of that club – it’s FSG. They did that when they added Liverpool to their portfolio alongside the Boston Red Sox.

While the relationship between Liverpool and this new club will be different than that, FSG have shown they can tread the line effectively between being competitive with the enemy and becoming them. Time will tell if they can do it again.

Another Monday of looking for answers as we look at the recent struggles but put all of it in perspective as we talk about the 35th anniversary and what it means to us
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