Nicolás Miremont –
Most Argentine clubs are run by their fans, but similar to most European leagues Argentine football clubs now try to open the door to foreign investments.
Being an avid European Football habitué means being used to its complicated world. Due to the tight relationship that the beautiful game shares with worldwide known brands and business in general, our beloved sport is no longer about battling on a muddy pitch while wearing a heavy, long-sleeved Umbro jersey.
Football has become one of the most profitable entertainment sources in history and, although every club (or enterprise that owns a club) still considers passion and devotion as crucial factors, it is not solely about that anymore. Things that might have seemed unimportant back in the day have become quite regular topics when the time for making any decision arrives within any club.
Sponsorships and exclusive partnerships, player hairstyles, overall image, the approach toward social media, and even eSports, have climbed up the hierarchy to become some of the most important aspects of the modern game—and sometimes even overtake the competitive aspect. And it all spins around money.
Becoming a polished, multi-cultural, politically correct product is regarded by some as the best thing that could have happened to football. Certainly, this dizzying growth wouldn’t have been possible without the involvement of foreign investments and anonymous societies. These have changed the game forever.
The Argentinian approach towards foreign investments
As a logical outcome of our history, we are very different from Europe. Politics work differently. Particularly regarding football, foreign investment is considered a bad influence and is often feared. Likewise, the concept of an anonymous society owning a sports club is most unusual and is frequently rejected by the population. Rightfully so, we could say. Argentina’s experiences with liberalism (and capitalism in general) haven’t been pleasant at all, to say the least.
After being brought up from scratch by immigrants or humble workers associations more than a hundred years ago, our clubs have remained as non-profit civil associations. These establishments, founded and financed by its members, have the objective of promoting sports and beneficial values to the community.
This is still the main role of civil associations in Argentina, where football clubs help to shape our identity. A club constitutes an important part of its members’ lives. All is built with the local community’s resources. This is why you won’t find any football club that is owned entirely by an anonymous society; the idea of seeing their clubs turn into enterprises gives the average Argentine the coldest of shivers. The same is true when it comes to investments. It is a delicate topic. for “The club belongs to its members”.
Even though the concept of a club run by the community is widely supported, it is still an ambitious project. Keeping their institution stable has been tough for 95% of our club’s administrations.
Whether this is due to an alarming level of ransacking or actual negligence, Argentine football has reached a whole new level of misery. Yes, I just used an adjective to qualify “ransacking”.
Joking aside, I would like to analyse what Daniel Angelici, Boca Juniors’ President has recently been doing in regards to keeping his club financially stable. Yes, it is Boca Juniors, the biggest club in the galaxy and one of the few clubs which doesn’t have any debts; you must be thinking that running an institution like that cannot be that difficult. Yes, probably. Still, ending the year in the black is not a piece of cake, given the high level of corruption and the deliberate absence of the state in Argentina.
Angelici’s pioneering attitude and European tour
On August 27, Angelici set off his latest European Tour, with the objective “to promote Boca Juniors throughout Europe”. During his trip, the President visited the facilities of three top European teams.
First stop: FC Barcelona. The President visited the Camp Nou, where he held a meeting with Barcelona’s President Josep Bartomeu. During this session, Angelici gathered ideas about FCB’s youth development, and La Bombonera’s field specialist was introduced to the club’s mixture of natural and synthetic grass. Rumours have been spread about a possible match between both for the Joan Gamper Trophy in 2017.
Next up: Sevilla Fútbol Club. Although this meeting was considerably shorter, its outcome was by far superior. Days after the event, Sevilla’s President José Castro announced on live radio that Sevilla would be playing a friendly match against Boca in November. “We’ll be playing against Boca Juniors as a fruit of my great relationship with its President. […] They are a great institution, they’ve won it all”. This was flattering…and profitable as this is the first time the Antonio Puerta Tophy will be played against a non-Spanish opponent.
Finally: Benfica. The President then popped over to the Estádio Da Luz and highlighted Benfica’s importance as a linking club between South American young talent and the best leagues in Europe. This is the case for Nico Gaitán, for example. Developed by Boca Juniors, the winger is now playing for Atlético de Madrid after several successful years with Benfica.
In addition, Angelici met FIFA President, Gianni Infantino, Javier Zanetti, Internazionale’s honorary vice-president, and Bayern München’s CEO, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, as part of the meeting held by the European Club Association. This format of a club association is what Angelici is trying to recreate in South America.
Although I might not support Angelici (who is, after all, tightly linked to Mauricio Macri’s ideas), he is definitely eager to get things going on our continent. This is the kind of proactivity that could be beneficial. It is to be hoped that it will spread among his fellow leaders.
Chinese company set to buy La Bombonera’s naming rights
Two months ago, several football shows hinted at the existence of a concrete offer from a Chinese mega-company for the naming rights of Boca Juniors’ stadium—Alberto J. Armando or “La Bombonera”.
This week, sources revealed the identity of this company—it turns out to be Huawei. This came as no surprise to the fans, for Huawei is Boca Junior’s brand-new sleeve sponsor, and has already expressed its intention of investing in the club, as part of a long-term development program.
The Chinese company has reportedly tempted Boca with a maximum of $10 million per year until 2027 for the right of its stadium’s name.
The revelation and its magnitude has unleashed a wave of intense loathing toward the president on the part of the conservative sides. On the other hand, some people consider the move positive. Generally, the people who picture this as a capitalist threat own a membership. These people have no problem at all when trying to go to the stadium for their tickets are guaranteed. But what about the remaining 50,000 members who can’t go to the stadium because of its lack of capacity?
This measure must be deeply analysed by the directing committee. The President will not have the last say, however, since his term will end just before this hypothetical deal is closed. It will be interesting to see how the club will react to the inevitable rift that this decision will generate.
Boca has also received an interesting offer from a Japanese company that currently remains unknown. The club will have to call for a vote in order to make its next move. This shall decide the winner between those who consider keeping the symbolic name as an act of passion, and those who consider it as an act that shows a complete lack of common sense.
Lots of teams from around the globe currently use this method as an income resource. Arsenal and Bayern München are two examples. No one has ever been heard saying, “I’m heading for the Alberto J. Armando”, which has been the official name for almost fifty years…if you know what I mean. (For more on sponsorship deals, check out San Lorenzo and Racing’s reasons for prioritising cultural heritage before any sum of money.)
The reality in the periphery
As we drift away from the big clubs’ reality, we encounter a selection of clubs which are not in the worst of situations but that cannot pay their debts either—institutions like Newell’s Old Boys, Vélez Sarsfield, and so on. Certainly, not all clubs manage to attract the attention of foreign companies. Some of them can barely participate in the transfer window.
If football is really to advance in this country, they must advance with it, or they will be left behind. Not actually behind, but there is a real possibility of their being exposed by the advancing clubs’ hypothetical financial improvement. An economic rebound is the worst thing that could happen to football and institutions whose billions of pesos vanished onto the ether these last couple of years.
Since youth development is not a viable option to gain income, there seems to be only one way out for these clubs. Those that are directed by a half-decent President will be safe if they choose to continue as civil associations. Those who don’t might have to become privately owned.
The alternative of private ownership
In the list of the 30 most important leagues in the world, there is only one country, which doesn’t allow any private investment in football clubs. You guessed it.
Back in 2001, while Mauricio Macri was still President of Boca Juniors, he proposed—along with Fernando Miele, San Lorenzo’s President back then—turning football clubs into anonymous societies financed by private capital.
His club ran for years as an outsourced company. During this period, Boca Juniors became one of the best football clubs in the world. New policies and commercial strategies were introduced within the organisation and this allowed the construction of the majority of the additional facilities that the club owns today.
In 1996, La Bombonera underwent its last structural reform. The old boxes were demolished, and a small stand was build. On top of it, new modern boxes were built. This project increased the stadium’s capacity up to 57.000.
Regarding economic development, Macri’s administration will be remembered for some of the craziest plays. In 2001, Boca Juniors signed Nahiro Takahara, a Japanese striker from Júbilo Iwata. The objective was to promote Boca Juniors’ name throughout the Asian market. Takahara’s adventure didn’t go as planned, and he went back to Japan. The striker is still today a topic of jokes. It was one of those risky things you will be praised for if you manage to pull it off, but hated for if not. Macri wasn’t able to pull it off.
Overall, Mauricio Macri’s period was beneficial, and also was an example of the fact that private entities tend to adapt. This is why State regulation is essential. Ten years later, tons of paperwork reveal unofficial contracts with scouts and companies. The suspicion that Macri was involved in illegal business coexists with the joy brought by four Copa Libertadores and two Intercontinental Cups.
Macri was not the only one to promote this initiative back in the day, though. There were at least three attempts to privatise football clubs. They were all turned down. Although some might say that those projects were rejected only to enable lack of transparency and theft in the name of social development, let’s just say that they were rejected…and football somehow has reached today’s level of crisis.
Given the circumstances, a full conversion would never be possible—although the debate is still open, several leaders have stated their opinions. An alternative is that the incursion of investors in the league must be tweaked and adapted.
If approved, this project would create the possibility for clubs to sign a “management agreement”. This basically means turning the club into a blend between a non-profit institution and an enterprise or firm—a collaborative contract for investment and sports development. But, we have heard that story countless times.
Could private ownership be the solution?
Yes and no. Private ownership is the most adopted style of management in football these days. Yet, our society is clearly not on the same page. Corruption and greed are just two of the obstacles that development has stumbled upon in this country.
Difference of opinion is also playing a part, with some leaders biased towards this tempting idea (yet, they remark on the importance of regulation) and others who claim that the arrival of this trend might displace the true meaning of a social organisation.
Rodolfo D’Onofrio, River Plate’s President has stated his opinion on the matter: “You don’t need to become a private organisation in order to gain income”.
River Plate has experienced a colossal boost since the arrival of the new administration. The fact that the club went from being relegated to becoming continental champions, speaks for itself. D’Onofrio believes strongly that our society has successfully crafted a model which doesn’t need to rely on private capital to fulfil its original purpose: getting children off the streets and teaching them the wonders of sport, and turning them into top quality sportsmen and women, as well as honest and humble citizens. “Are we willing to lose it all only to look like Paris Saint-Germain?” he asked.
What is the root of this fear?
Even for an Argentine, it is hard to understand the true cause of the nation’s eternal decadency. At first sight it could be attributed to corruption, selfishness and personal intentions.
Civil associations are an outstanding initiative. In fact, the majority of us have been influenced by the values and skills we learnt while sharing entire summers with our friends at a certain club. The true meaning is still there. However, the sad reality is becoming undeniable.
Eternally in crisis, these organisations were saved by the government countless times in order to avoid the economic collapse of football in the country.
Besides, the ghost of 90s’ neo-liberalism is still present amongst those who identify themselves as opposites to Macri, and whether they suffered that period or not, they always find a way to scare the population by using that speech.
The average Argentine will support a political party only because he or she did well under their management, and will ignore every proof of corruption on their part—no matter how obvious. Liberalism may not be the answer, but using horrible memories to feed a supposedly “inevitable” economical outcome while ignoring the misery in our country is selfish.
There is no point in being “independent from the capitalist” or having a social objective if your football league is the most corrupt laughing stock on the planet that features outdated stadiums, low quality football and crude violence.
But hey, football remains ‘free’ so we don’t care about investments and development.
Social associations should be the default format for football clubs. This has always made us proud. If you ask me, I don’t want private ownership. Nevertheless, our football is dying and the sport itself has changed to the point where investments have taken over the financial aspect. This is nothing to fear, it is not a bad thing. It is just another level of football that, apart from generating sportsmen and entertaining the public, generates money.
Contrary to Angelici’s intention of “copying what functions properly abroad”, there is a strong motion at the other end, which can be perfectly summarised by this phrase: a mixture would be unfair. For a civil association, zero gain means job done, for an enterprise, it means the opposite.
It is really admirable that there are still people like D’Onofrio around, it really is. But the world is not ideal. A civil association won’t be able to pay for River Plate’s new stadium.
Foreign investments are not a threat to our way of developing football nor will private managers relieve us from corrupt management. The only way they could do harm, would be by letting them take over without the slightest regulation. External factors are not responsible for our crisis, corruption and our idiosyncrasy are.
Argentina must decide if we will A) Remain in an eternal crisis (but be ‘free from the capitalist’), B) become a football superpower or C) support a mixture of quality and great social values. This last one is not possible at the moment, though. Greed and selfishness need to be set aside, and that is not happening anytime soon.
There is still hope for Argentina to return to the top. All things considered, there are only two options: one leaves us stuck here, and the other one takes us closer to Europe’s level. From there, in due time, we shall be able to discuss social values in relation with private associations.
Argentina was haphazardly left without any sort of regulation for ten years. People were allowed to do what they pleased, while being financed by the state. In the meantime, football has progressed and we are still here fighting for money and individual ambitions.
Nicolás Miremont is a born and raised Boca Juniors fan, but his heart has a special place for Manchester United, Zenit Saint Petersburg and Dynamo Kiev. Miremont loves to support the underdogs. Miremont enjoys watching smaller competitions especially those from Eastern Europe, but also his native Argentina. Follow him on Twitter @Miremont_Nico