For at least the last couple of decades, feeder clubs have been around in football and it raises the debate as to whether they have an influence on the success of their parent organisation.
There are of course those that have numerous feeder clubs and others that have just one or two. These often have multiple purposes, one of which is to give the parent club the first option on players – particularly youth talents that are emerging. Another is to provide those belonging to a parent club experience at a feeder club, with more guarantees that he will receive more playing time. In some instances, the parent club will also dictate what position to field the player in, as well as individual training schedules and diet regimes.
While there have been notable examples of feeder clubs over the years, they are not perhaps heard of as much now, with the multi-club ownership model (explored further down), seeming to take precedent. Effectively here, one organisation will own a series of clubs around the world, usually with there being a principal club operating in the most elite competition.
In coming to a conclusion as to whether the parent-feeder club relationship is beneficial to the former, we can look at the numbers that relate to those players who have spent time at a feeder club, of their permanent employers and then how much success that they achieved upon returning.
Famous Feeder Club Relationships
Of course, there may be a number of famous parent/feeder club examples that already spring to mind, though let’s take a look at some of the most notable and even niche ones that have been in existence over the years.
Manchester United and Royal Antwerp
Perhaps one of the most famous partnerships in football – even you could as far to say as ‘vogue’, these two clubs established their relationship in 1998 and enjoyed a mutually beneficial spell together. One of the reasons for the link with the Belgian side, was because it was understood that players could become a lot better than they could if loaned out to a lower-tier English club.
Indeed, former United player, Bojan Djordic who spent time on loan at Antwerp and then permanently once revealed: “The football in Belgium’s first division is very technical, much better than the league’s below the Premier in England,” adds
“Players would be better off in the Belgian first division than in England. That’s why we hope to get promoted.”
Arsenal and Beveren
One link that many will not perhaps, be aware of, is Arsenal’s link with second-tier (at the time) Belgian outfit Beveren from the late nineties. A partnership that lasted for the best part of a decade, Arsenal reaped a good number of rewards, taking Emmanuel Eboue in addition to Gervinho some years later.
The Belgian side became somewhat of a breeding ground for African players, many of whom went on to achieve great things in the game, while Arsenal – one of the most technically gifted teams at the time, benefitted greatly from sending players on loan to the Belgian club.
Tottenham and San Jose Earthquakes
In a bid to gain access to more exclusive access to US-born talent, Spurs secured a partnership with MLS side, San Jose in 2008 just as the competition started to show signs of promise. At the time, the likes of Clint Dempsey and Brian McBride (US internationals), were experiencing successful careers at Fulham and chairman Daniel Levy recognised a potential advantage in the partnership. However, such a relationship was short-lived, lasting less than four years, though one link between the two clubs was London-born Simon Dawkins, who came through the Spurs academy before spending two seasons at the Californian side.
Chelsea and Vitesse Arnhem
Perhaps a more notable example, this link has endured throughout the Roman Abramovich era, with a number of players enjoying loan spells in the Netherlands, where they gained valuable experience.
It was an agreement that saw the likes of Bertrand Traore, Dominic Solanke and Matt Miazga (all signings) have periods on loan at the Eredivisie club, while Chelsea brought promising midfielder Marco van Ginkel in the opposite direction before the player also returned on a temporary loan spell. Interestingly before this came to fruition, Chelsea had somewhat of an informal understanding in place with PSV Eindhoven, one which saw them sign Alex, Arjen Robben and Mateja Kezman.
Liverpool and RC Genk
It seems as though Belgium feeder clubs were ‘the thing’ for Premier League operations, especially in 2010 when the Reds took on a connection with RC Genk of the Belgian first division.
However, this lasted just four years, with Liverpool intending to use the partnership as a way for non-EU players from Africa or South America to attain a work permit to be eligible to play for them – it transpired only French defender Chris Mavinga had a brief loan spell there. They did though miss quite a lot of tricks as they sat idle and watched the likes Thibaut Courtois and Kevin De Bruyne join rivals, Chelsea, while would-be striker Christian Benteke first moved to Aston Villa before moving to Merseyside.
Real Madrid and Gimnastic Manresa
One from left-field is this interesting relationship in Spanish football – an agreement that was signed in 2017, which gives Los Blancos first refusal on all young talent rolling off the production line at Gimnastic Manresa. Curiously, this was Pep Guardiola’s first club – he would later go on to become a Barcelona legend as both a player, coach and manager. The Spanish capital club pays Manresa an annual fee of €35,000 for the privilege of having access to their youth players.
Ajax and Ajax Cape Town
Renowned for their ability to develop talented youngsters, some of which have gone on to become superstars of the game, Dutch club Ajax actually formed an alliance with South African side Ajax Cape Town in the late nineties. Officially, Ajax made an investment in the club, which gave them first refusal on players, though it yielded the likes of Steven Pienaar, who would play for Everton and most recently, prodigy Lassina Traore who now plays for Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk.
Feeder Club Players Who Then Won Trophies
|Player||Feeder Club||Parent Club||Honours/Titles|
|John O’Shea||Royal Antwerp||Manchester United||5 Premier League, 1 Champions League, 1 FA Cup, 2 League Cup, 1 Club World Cup|
|Darron Gibson||Royal Antwerp||Manchester United||2 Premier League, 3 League Cup, 1 Club World Cup|
|Emmanuel Eboue||Beveren||Arsenal||1 FA Cup|
|Nemanja Matic||Vitesse Arnhem||Chelsea||3 Premier League, 1 FA Cup, 1 League Cup|
|Jordi Alba||UE Cornella||Barcelona||5 La Liga, 1 Champions League, 5 Copa del Rey|
Examples from the table above demonstrates that feeder clubs perhaps do not have much of an effect on the success of a football club, however, there are a couple of rare examples, in the case of (John) O’Shea, (Nemanja) Matic, and (Jordi) Alba, all of whom have a wide array of prestigious medals in their trophy cabinet, that they went on to win after spending time with feeder clubs.
What About Multi-Club Ownership?
Over the last few years a new model has materialised in football, essentially taking over from the feeder club model; that of multi-club ownership, which could become the future.
This is based on big football club organisations that have established ‘affiliate’ clubs around the world, who they own as part of their business model. Similar to the feeder club model, but with more of a stronger, more reliable relationship, these have become somewhat vogue in football and there are a number of notable examples.
The main advantage of this is that clubs, or to a better extent, parent companies such as the City Football Group are able to find and develop even more talented players and have better control of their future. The table below outlines how potent these have become in recent years, looking particularly at the model that the Red Bull Group have put together so successfully.
Products of the affiliate model and resulting successes
|Naby Keita||RB Salzburg||RB Leipzig||Red Bull Group||1 Premier League, 1 Champions League|
|Dayot Upemecano||FC Liefering||RB Salzburg – RB Leipzig||Red Bull Group||2 Austrian League, 2 Austrian Cup, 1 German Super Cup|
|Sadio Mane||FC Liefering||RB Salzburg||Red Bull Group||1 Premier League, 1 Champions League|
|Dominik Szoboszlai||FC Liefering||RB Salzburg – RB Leipzig||Red Bull Group||4 Austrian League, 3 Austrian Cup|
|Erling Braut Haaland||FC Liefering||RB Salzburg||Red Bull Group||1 Austrian League, 1 Austrian Cup|
|Patson Daka||FC Liefering||RB Salzburg||Red Bull Group||4 Austrian League, 3 Austrian Cup|
|Jack Harrison||NY City FC||Manchester||City Football Group||1 EFL Championship|
The above players in the table reflect just how successful that the affiliate model ownership can be, with the right systems in place and perhaps, surprisingly, there are more organic successes from the Red Bull Group.
A significant amount of investment has been dedicated to the clubs that are owned by the global company, with a focus on developing talented youngsters and then selling them for a big profit.
In addition, though, the likes of RB Salzburg have witnessed an enormous amount of success in Austrian football, while they have also left their imprint on Europe in recent years, reaching the semi-finals of the Europa League in 2018.
The club benefits from having the much smaller FC Liefering which has seen numerous top players spend time there in their early years. The likes of Sadio Mane and Naby Keita earned moves to the Premier League where they won the Champions League and Premier League with Liverpool (the former after a stint with Southampton).
Which Model Works Better?
What we can draw from this, is that essentially the feeder club model is becoming more and more defunct in terms of the effect that it has on the parent club. Only a couple of examples in rare cases have yielded any success – perhaps (Nemanja) Matic being a standout.
However, there is a potential case to be made long term for the affiliate model (wider club ownership). While the Red Bull Group clearly leads the way, the City Football Group’s teams around the world are starting to have an impact on their respective leagues. However, the issue is that the jewel in their crown – Manchester City, often do not take a gamble on these players, instead preferring to splash millions on more established names. As a result, the multi-club ownership model could certainly be better in the long term.