Italian Serie A News, Results, Analysis and Features on Football Soccer

Serie A Weekly’s Michael Moruzzi looks at co-ownership and asks if other countries could benefit from adopting a similar system.

Some things in life are so universally derided that only a complete fool would dare to endorse them, like FIFA’s code of ethics, Sarah Palin’s grasp of geopolitical issues, and the Italian administrative system. Apparently, that last one is a bit of nightmare. Tobias Jones’ account of legal practices in The Dark Heart of Italy (2003) left me utterly confused as to how Italy can function as a modern nation, and I have heard Jones’ sentiments echoed by friends who live in Italy. Yet, despite this hindrance, Italy seems to work in its own way. And it’s with that thought that I refer you to a peculiar aspect of the Italian football’s own administrative system: the system for co-ownership of players.

Looking around on the internet I found few advocates for this model in other countries. It’s much easier to find criticism than praise. That might be because it’s almost impossible to fully understand, but I think the co-ownership model might just be on to something that other leagues could learn from.

Earlier this year I wrote about the changing nature of transfer policies in England, in particular the methods of the biggest clubs in acquiring as much young talent at the earliest stage possible, and the subsequent impact this had on both players and selling clubs. I am not convinced that all players benefit from going to one of the game’s giant clubs at the earliest possible stage, either in Italy or in England. Is the opportunity to be gradually introduced to the first team at a smaller club really a worse option than reserve team football followed by various loan spells? There must be a better model that provides incentives for player development at smaller clubs, while enabling those with more resource to invest in potential, which brings me back to Italy and co-ownership.

By allowing the selling club to retain a share of the player’s contract, the co-ownership model appears to spread the risks and opportunities associated with transfers more evenly. I put this point to Serie A Weekly’s own Adam Digby, who agrees co-ownership can provide benefits for both players and clubs;

“Take Giovinco, for example, without that option [of co-ownership], Parma would give him a year and see no reward. It is a brilliant if complex system.”

The transfer of Sebastian Giovinco to Parma from Juventus on a co-ownership contract is an excellent example because it illustrates the benefits to all parties. Clearly, Giovinco is a talented player, but for whatever reason he has struggled to make his mark at Juventus. His parent club cannot use him, but want to protect their asset. In England the player would be sent on numerous loans until he found a home. There’s nothing wrong with that in principle, but the temporary club would expect an immediate impact from a player whose wages they are paying, but whose contract they do not own. On the other hand, if the acquiring club are able to invest a stake in the player, it changes everything.

They have an asset on their balance sheet and therefore a vested interest in improving that player’s long-term future, thus increasing their market value. I apologise if I’m beginning to sound like a management accountant, but this is a reality of modern football. Players that might have been unaffordable or high risk if purchased out right begin to look like a much better investment under co-ownership.

From the player’s perspective, moving on a co-ownership deal means they benefit from stability; from the genuine feeling of being part of a club, as opposed to the transient relationship of a fixed term loan.

It can work the other way too. If a smaller club sells to a larger one, they can retain a share of the contract for two seasons. Genoa have taken this approach in selling highly rated Stephan El Shaarawy to AC Milan on a co-ownership deal. There is then potential to earn a larger fee if the player is a success and completes a full transfer to the larger club. In theory this reduces the risk of the smaller clubs being stripped of their best young players for negligible fees before they have proved their true value.

One idiosyncrasy you cannot imagine being exported to other nations is the dreaded envelopes, the process by which unsettled co-ownership disputes are resolved. I’m still not sure how this works; initially I imagined a smoky hotel bar filled with men wearing sunglasses and expensive suits, exchanging sombre glances, and sliding envelopes across the table. In reality it’s probably a very tedious process, but either way I can’t see this being picked up elsewhere. Italian executives might thrive on the opportunity to demonstrate their cunning and pick up some players for a steal, but the unpredictability would likely induce heart attacks in Northern Europe.

The system is not perfect, and it does not necessarily deter the larger clubs from speculating on a wider pool of talent that might otherwise spend two to three years employed by a smaller team. The giant squads of Champions League regulars are a fact of modern football. However, by providing the option of purchasing a stake in the player’s contract, the relationship between larger and smaller clubs is fundamentally altered. It might not be fashionable to advocate an Italian system when looking at the structure of league football, but on this issue their administrators might have found something that other leagues have missed.

Follow Micheal on Twitter here

Comments are closed.

Featured Skills Video

    Write for Serie A Weekly!

    contribute Send us a timely, compelling post and we'll consider it for publishing on the site with mention of your name and social-media link.

    Click here to contact us.


Serie A Weekly recognises all copyrights contained. Where possible we acknowledge the copyright holder. If you own copyright to an image and object to its presence, contact the blog immediately using the "contact us" link at the top of this page. This blog is not responsible for the content of third party sites.