Tuesday is a curious anniversary in European soccer as it represents 14 years since Paris Saint-Germain came within 90 minutes of slipping into Ligue 2. Had Amara Diane not scored both goals in a 2-1 win away at FC Sochaux-Montbeliard, one of the continental game’s leading powers might not be in the position that they are in now after a decade or so of Qatari ownership.
That PSG even came that close to dropping out of the French topflight seems unthinkable today, but it was reality not even two decades ago. Just because the capital club now occupies an entirely different realm to many of their domestic and European counterparts, it does not mean that the emotional and financial pain of relegation has disappeared since their struggles.
Across the continent, Girondins de Bordeaux, Genoa CFC and Venezia are facing up to the fact that they will be playing in their respective domestic second tiers at best next season. Burnley FC and RCD Mallorca continue to fight against the drop while FC Augsburg left it late to avoid demotion from the German Bundesliga.
What do these clubs have in common with PSG? All are foreign-owned or funded to an extent, and in this case, all have American backing.
Augsburg remain largely under German influence due to the 50+1 ownership rule which makes major shareholding highly complicated. However, David S. Blitzer bypassed this when he completed a 45% purchase of the group which holds 99.4% of the club and swiftly provided nearly $20 million in funds to sign goalless Ricardo Pepi in January.
The Bavarians are comparatively fine, though, given that they will remain in the Bundesliga for next campaign which is also the case for the likes of Spezia Calcio in Serie A after Thiago Motta’s miracle work. The situation is not as bright for Parma Calcio 1913 who remain mired in Italy’s Serie B after their relegation under Kyle J. Krause despite the return of a veteran Gianluigi Buffon.
It is even worse for Pacific Media Group who have seen their involvement with New City Capital relegate AS Nancy Lorraine and Barnsley FC from the French and English second divisions respectively with the Tykes having already reshuffled their hierarchy barely 12 months on from almost reaching the Premier League via the playoffs.
“One lesson from all of this is that it is difficult to be at two clubs,” maligned ASNL president Gauthier Ganaye told L’Equipe. “The starting brief was never that I would be there 100% of the time. Discussions are underway to define a structure that can allow all the clubs in the group to function.”
The combination of PMG and NCC also took on a minority stake in fallen German giants 1. FC Kaiserslautern as the club was on course to automatically promote from Bundesliga 3. Pipped by a single point to second by Eintracht Braunschweig, though, they now face the playoffs due to a situation caused by Turkgucu Munchen filing for insolvency which expunged their results due to ownership withdrawal and a leadership group which is now resurfacing in Nancy.
Genoa, who are dropping down to Serie B for the first time since their 2007 topflight return, are now owned by 777 Partners after Enrico Preziosi sold up after nearly 20 years. The Miami-based outfit have also acquired Standard Liege in Belgium and Red Star in France with the latter buyout particularly hostile due to fierce fan resistance towards a forced takeover by an unproven group spending big money with no track record nor a clear strategy for a unique project.
“The decision is definitive,” said retained Red Star president Patrice Haddad in stunning comments to L’Equipe. “Either they take part in the project, or they do not. Personally, I think they will, but they do not exclusively own the club’s DNA. How do you protect soccer if you do not have the means?”
Whatever happens next between 777 and the famed cult club from the Parisian suburbs, not all foreign ownership stories have been of failure this term with France particularly good proof of that. Toulouse FC is returning to Ligue 1 after two seasons away with data featuring heavily in their second season strategy which has been overseen by Philippe Montanier and Damien Comolli based on analytics provided by Zelus.
Sochaux, PSG’s beaten opponents that day 14 years ago, are up against fellow Asian-backed fallen French giants AJ Auxerre as well as a highly diversified and ambitious Paris FC in the race for promotion to Le Championnat which starts with the playoffs this Tuesday in the capital. Nottingham Forest and Sheffield United are also under foreign ownership with Henry Mauriss currently in talks to acquire the Blades with both facing each other in the EFL playoffs and the Tricky Trees leading 2-1 from the opening leg.
The problems of elite club ownership are not limited exclusively to American groups as there are many well-run teams higher up the ladder to point to. However, the recent rush to acquire multiple sides in City Football Group and Red Bull-style approach but with no proven success with a single club is waking fanbases up with NAC Breda in the Netherlands an example of those unwilling to risk their history for financial stability offered by CFG.
Chances are that many more European clubs will come under foreign ownership in the near future, such as Palermo FC under the CFG umbrella, but they can expect to be held to higher standards after mixed recent results and increased fan opposition such as these.