The Official Liverpool Thread - Part 2

Liverpool owner Fenway Sports Group in talks over purchase of French club Bordeaux

FSG is in “the early stages of dialogue and engagement”, the group confirmed in a statement on Tuesday. Bordeaux also confirmed talks in a statement of their own.

There will be a thorough due diligence process to assess the feasibility of the deal and ensure both parties are a good fit for each other.

There is recognition that Bordeaux represent a good option for FSG but it is acknowledged that there are lots of issues that could prevent any deal from coming to fruition.

Any team purchased by FSG would be a standalone entity, having no direct connection to Liverpool, with a desire within the ownership for any club they buy to maintain its independence and identity.

While confirming the talks with FSG, Bordeaux confirmed that it is appealing a decision from the Direction Nationale du Controle de Gestion (DNCG, the body responsible for overseeing the finances of French football clubs) to demote it from the French second tier to the third. Bordeaux says it is appealing the decision as it bids to provide the necessary guarantees for financing for the upcoming 2024-25 campaign. The club adds that the plan to sell a majority stake to FSG was presented to the DNCG on Tuesday morning with negotiations ongoing.

Bordeaux were placed into administration in 2021 when their American owner King Street stated it would no longer support the club financially, and they were bought by Luxembourgish-Spanish businessman Lopez in June of that year.

It has been apparent that FSG wanted to expand into a multi-club model since Michael Edwards’ appointment to a senior role within the group in March, which includes the former Liverpool executive taking oversight of the club’s football operations.

Edwards then appointed Benfica’s Pedro Marques as director of football development, with the 41-year-old seen as an ideal fit for FSG’s multi-club ambitions. Marques reports into Julian Ward, who was appointed as FSG’s technical director in May and whose remit is to preside over the management of the football operations of any club added to the group’s stable.

Bordeaux are one of the biggest clubs in France, winning the championship title six times and reaching the Champions League quarter-finals in 2009-10, but have endured financial difficulties in recent seasons.

The club were relegated to Ligue 2 after finishing at the foot of the table in 2021-22 and have yet to return to the French top-flight, having previously spent just one season outside of the division between 1949 and 2022. Under former Liverpool winger Albert Riera, Bordeaux finished 12th in Ligue 2 in the 2023-24 season.
Why is FSG keen on buying Bordeaux – and could Liverpool benefit?

What exactly happened today?

It was revealed that Bordeaux have been provisionally relegated to the Championnat National, the third tier of French football, by the DNCG (French football’s financial watchdog) because they could not provide all the necessary guarantees for funding their 2024-25 season. In a statement, Bordeaux said they were appealing this decision.

To help retain their Ligue 2 status and secure their future, Bordeaux now plan to sell a majority stake to Fenway Sports Group (FSG). That idea was presented to the DNCG today (Tuesday), with negotiations ongoing. They have around two weeks to finalise a deal.

In a statement, FSG said: “Fenway Sports Group has expressed interest in the potential acquisition of French football club Girondins de Bordeaux and is in the early stages of dialogue and engagement.”

What is FSG’s strategy when it comes to buying more clubs?

Until now, Liverpool have been the only football club in FSG’s sports portfolio, which includes the Boston Red Sox baseball team, the ice hockey franchise Pittsburgh Penguins and the NASCAR outfit RFK Racing.

But in March, when Michael Edwards was appointed as FSG’s CEO of football, the Boston-based group revealed a change in strategy, with president Mike Gordon emailing Liverpool staff to say moves were underway to buy another football club.

“To remain competitive, we must identify every avenue available to us to gain an edge,” he wrote. “To this end, Michael (Edwards) will use every tool at his disposal and has already identified the acquisition of another club as one channel that will help fortify our overall operation and drive our competitive ambitions.”

In this sense, adopting the multi-club model would simply bring FSG into line with other Premier League ownership groups which boast a range of football clubs. Manchester City’s owners have 13 as part of their City Football Group, the biggest stable, but well over half of the 20 English top-flight clubs now have relationships with at least one other European side.

Why are Bordeaux considered attractive?

FC Girondins de Bordeaux are one of the most decorated clubs in France — winning six league titles, the most recent of which came in 2009. They got to the quarter-finals of the Champions League the following season.

Some icons of the French game, including Zinedine Zidane, Christophe Dugarry and Jean Tigana, played for Bordeaux, while current Real Madrid and France midfielder Aurelien Tchouameni came through their youth system.

However, the past few years have been tough.

Bordeaux entered administration in 2021 and were relegated a year later after finishing bottom of the top flight and conceding 91 goals in their 38 matches. To compound their misery, they were initially ordered to be demoted (again) to the third tier, with reported debts in the region of €40million (£33.8m, $43.2m). This would have put the future of the club at risk.

After putting together a debt restructuring plan, they were reinstated to Ligue 2 three days later and almost returned to Ligue 1 at the first attempt, finishing third in 2022-23 (only the top two go up, with no promotion play-offs), before a disappointing campaign last season where they came 12th in the 20-team division.

Bordeaux are currently managed by former Liverpool winger Albert Riera, who joined them in October last year. Reserve-team manager Erwan Lannuzel is also highly rated and their main talent-spotter is former France international Yannick Stopyra.

Despite their problems, Bordeaux’s support in their part of south-west France has remained strong: they still regularly attract 20,000 fans to games at their Matmut Atlantique stadium, which opened in 2015.

The stadium is impressive but also complicated: it is owned by Bordeaux’s city council in a public/private partnership and is also losing money. It is likely to be available to buy for around €50million, but that would require a negotiation with the council.

“Bordeaux is the definition of a sleeping giant,” said David Gluzman, a director at Deutsche Pfandbriefbank, a football finance expert and Bordeaux supporter. “It is a recognised brand, with all the domestic trophies in the cabinet, the second-largest average attendance in the division, a large catchment area and a total absence of competitors within a 200km (124 miles) radius.

“They are attractive factors, and you can add to that an outstanding academy that produced (current) French internationals such as Jules Kounde and Aurelien Tchouameni.”

Indeed, Bordeaux have earned over €100million from selling home-grown players in the past decade — a key reason they are still a going concern. Their next star could well be Mathys Angely, a France Under-17 centre-back who is highly rated across the continent.

Are there any benefits for Liverpool?

When Gordon emailed staff earlier this year to confirm Edwards’ appointment, he was keen to stress that buying another club would help rather than hinder Liverpool.

“This in no way takes away from the focus, attention, care — and most importantly — the investment in Liverpool. In fact, we see it as a path that will help strengthen our club for the future,” Gordon wrote.

Just how beneficial it proves to be, assuming the deal gets done, only time will tell. However, the advantages of the multi-club model can’t be overlooked. Since post-Brexit regulations came into force in 2021, English clubs have no longer been able to sign players under the age of 18 from overseas. Spanish midfielder Stefan Bajcetic was the last teenager Liverpool signed before the changes.

Owning a club in a country which is still a member of the European Union can help to circumvent those rules, as players can be based there until they reach adulthood.

For older players initially ineligible to get a work permit to play in the UK, placing them at another club can also be beneficial in terms of building up their qualification criteria.

As well as the edge owning another club can offer in terms of recruitment, it can also help when it comes to developing Liverpool’s own talent through the use of the loan system. In a multi-club model, the teams involved typically adopt the same playing style and the parent club has more control over the amount of game time a player is given.

There is also the opportunity to share scouting analysis and data.

Could there be a backlash?

Fans of other French clubs have reacted angrily to being absorbed into multi-club models.

Strasbourg supporters have regularly protested at being owned by BlueCo, the group which also runs Chelsea of the Premier League. The 2023-24 season threatened to come off the rails for Strasbourg as the mood turned toxic, although they did ultimately avoid relegation from Ligue 1.

There have also been protests at two other French sides: Lyon — against John Textor’s Eagle Football Group, which also owns Crystal Palace in the Premier League, Botafogo in Brazil and Belgium’s Molenbeek — and Lorient, where Bournemouth owner Bill Foley’s Black Knight Football Entertainment has a stake.

There is also the issue of Bordeaux and Liverpool potentially playing in the same UEFA competition in the future, although that is less problematic now UEFA, European football’s governing body, has relaxed its rules surrounding multi-club owners having teams involved in its tournaments.

Yet French football currently has potentially far bigger concerns, not least the scramble to agree a TV rights deal. Ligue 2 has secured a contract with beIN, but the top flight remains without one just over a month away from its new season.

Clubs who had been expecting to share around €1billion per season look like having to make do with considerably less than that, putting the whole French football ecosystem under strain.

Could there be more additions to the FSG football stable?

As The Athletic reported in March, there is no sense that FSG’s ambitions end with purchasing one more European club, although that was always likely to be the first step in the project.

South America remains a potentially fruitful market, and FSG has looked at opportunities there closely. It has been linked to as many as four Brazilian clubs – Cruzeiro, Botafogo, Athletico Paranaense and Internacional – in the past.
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