Other Northern Clubs Are Doing It So Why Aren't We?
Following on from the article yesterday about closer ties with other clubs, I have looked at a number of Northern Clubs who appear to be actively developing this area.
Bolton Wanderers are a club that has overtaken us on the pitch in terms of results in recent years but they still do not have the level of finances or fantastic support that we have. Seeing a club of their ilk usurp us in some ways is upsetting but can we learn from them? After all they must be getting something right!
Most supporters would argue that we do not want to see our Club play in the style of Bolton and I agree but Sam Allardyce does have an irritating knack of getting the most out of players (even the journeymen) and getting results (albeit in a mainly unattractive style). Many football professionals acknowledge that whilst Bolton do not have adequate resources to compete at the higher end of the transfer market they have invested heavily behind the scenes.
Sam Allardyce not only has sophisticated technology at his disposal but also has a plethora of professionals with wide ranging skillsets available to his squad. Of course all of this costs money at the end of the day, money which might not be available to our Club at this present time (if indeed the board and Stuart Pearce deemed that such expenditure is warranted). This article is not meant to look at behind the scenes infrastructure that would cost significant sums of money to expand or develop but is meant to look at other areas that would not necessarily cost a lot of money to set up but could play a positive part in the continued development of our Club in particular closer ties with other clubs and the wider benefits that might be achieved.
Bolton in recent times have forged links with a number of clubs in an attempt to improve commercially and professionally. One of the smaller ones is a link to Northern Ireland’s Ballymena United a relationship which started mid-way through the 2002-03 season. Ballymena United are managed by one of our ex-players Tommy Wright and we played them in August as a result of an outstanding commitment.
In May this year Bolton also formed a partnership with top Chinese side Wuhan Huangelou FC. Wuhan Huangelou had just completed a relatively successful season in the Chinese league and are former Chinese League and Cup champions.
The partnership with Wuhan Huangelou strives to deliver a number of objectives which will see the two sides working together on a number of mutually beneficial opportunities including but not limited to delivering UEFA coaching qualifications to coaches, ex-players and aspiring young people (via a development centre in Wuhan and possibly at Bolton Wanderers in England), numerous academic opportunities to young people in China, the recommendation of foreign players to Chinese football clubs and assisting in recommending Chinese football players to overseas clubs. It is interesting to note that all profits from the development centre will be split equally between the two clubs. The interesting part for me is that they estimate to make a profit which I presume could be used by Bolton for other projects.
In addition, the partnership also covers the Clubs sharing ideas for the commercial exploitation of stadia as well as use the partnership as a platform for North West companies to enter the China market. The partnership is also expected to bear fruit in other ways in particular the town of Bolton is likely to benefit from the Club's respective strategies with economic, education and cultural links all being generated on the back of the profile and relationships built by the clubs.
It may take time for this partnership to bear fruit on a number of fronts but the immediate benefit (to the supporters) was seen in October this year when Chinese duo Yang Changpeng and Zhou Liaota (both from Wuhan Huangelou) underwent three week trials at Bolton. Six foot eight inch Yang was probably the most impressive of the two players being only 17 and already playing for China’s Under 20 side. Even if these players are not signed by Bolton the trials would have contributed to the goodwill being built up between the sides and help develop closer ties between the communities involved.
Bolton added to their partnerships in July this year by entering into an agreement with Elche CF the Spanish Segunda League side. It is believed that the arrangement covers the exchange of tactical methods and player exchanges.
Not to be outdone, Sheffield United have been developing key partnerships with other clubs. Sheffield acquired a controlling stake (90%) in the Chengdu Blades last year who play in the Chinese League. At the time of the acquisition Sheffield’s Chairman stated that “We are taking the Blades global with the acquisition of the Chengdu Club”. Sheffield already had a Chinese presence due to them running the Hainan Soccer Academy in South China.
In the last few days Sheffield have opened exclusive talks with Brazilian club Sao Paulo which may lead to young talent being brought over from Brazil. Sao Paulo is a major Brazilian club and need no introduction, they are probably best known for producing talent like Kaka, Cafu and Denilson.
In addition to their Chinese interests and likely Brazilian partnership Sheffield have also been sending representatives to West Africa on fact finding missions, what may or may not develop from these only time will tell. Ajax who I reported on briefly yesterday are prolific finders of African talent and if you have watched the African Cup of Nations or indeed the recent World Cup you will know that Africa is a hotbed of emerging talent.
In early 2004 Blackburn Rovers entered into a partnership with Cercle Bruges from the Belgium Jupiler League. The partnership gives Blackburn first pick of their promising players and in return Cercle Bruges has had many young promising Blackburn players loaned to them. Fairly recently Blackburn have been linked with Cercle Bruges’ promising Belgium Under 21 International forward Stijn De Smet. If he’s any good I’d guess the partnership between the clubs will start bearing fruit for Blackburn.
There is another Northern Club who have had a long partnership with Royal Antwerp who do not need to be named! This partnership has been in place for quite some time and many players have found themselves loaned to Royal Antwerp for experience. In fact, recently Chinese international Dong Fangzhou who has been loaned to Royal Antwerp for the last two and a half years has received a work permit and will be coming to these shores permanently next month.
There is more to football club partnerships then exchanging ideas, exchanging players and hopefully picking up a talented player or two. There can be huge advantages from a commercial aspect to be gained be it developing brands, attracting wider support and additional sponsorship etc. There is also much to be gained from the communities and wider areas in which the Clubs concerned are located/ serve.
The majority of Supporters Trusts have aims that cover strengthening the bonds between Club and community this is something we have researched and continue to research. We will be recommending that this area be considered as one of the aims of the Trust.
Time will tell whether our Club is also looking at the areas other Premiership clubs are looking to develop and to a certain degree exploit. As mentioned yesterday, when the trust is formed and raises money, perhaps the funds raised could be introduced to City and used to fund similar projects like the ones above. Such projects have huge potential and could benefit our Club both on and off the pitch and in doing so also benefit the communities concerned.
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