The Arsenal Football Group: Why the Gunners may be set to buy a feeder club or affiliate team
Arsenal are set for a change on the board, sparking rumour that the club are about to branch out into unprecedented territory
Arsenal could be buying a feeder club or affiliate side overseas.
That's the rumour, following the latest shake-up on the Emirates Stadium board, with corporate lawyer and influential figure Tim Lewis joining the club full-time after resigning from his position at the law firm at which he is a partner, Clifford Chance.
Lifelong Arsenal fan Lewis enjoys a professional relationship with owner Stan Kroenke spanning 15 years and as seen in All or Nothing: Arsenal, these days, he drops in on manager Mikel Arteta to offer advice. He even recently provided a financial audit of the club over lockdown – but now, his increased role could potentially see the most breathtaking change at Arsenal Football Club in quite some time.
Could Arsenal buy a feeder club or affiliate team?
Tim Lewis resigning from his spot at a law firm to work more closely with Arsenal might not seem all that important at first glance… until you glean exactly what the Oxford University graduate is a noted expert in.
According to Clifford Chance (opens in new tab), Lewis specialises in M&A (mergers and acquisitions). He was said to be instrumental in Kroenke initially purchasing shares in Arsenal and later increasing his stake to 100%, while alongside a consortium in 2019, Lewis helped take Merlin Entertainments – the company behind Madame Tussauds and the London Eye among others – private, in a deal worth £5.9 billion.
Lewis is clearly a trusted figure at the club, not just for the Kroenkes, but Arteta himself. An increased presence at the Gunners' London Colney base may just be explained by his popularity – or he might be about to lend his considerable professional expertise.
Why would Arsenal and KSE buy an affiliate club?
Kroenke Sports & Entertainment (KSE) is one of the biggest private sports empires on the planet, with NBA outfit Denver Nuggets and NFL franchise LA Rams both among the jewels in the company's crown. And Arsenal aren't the only football club on the books (or is that soccer, Stan?).
MLS team Colorado Rapids are owned by the Kroenkes – and this year, the US club did its first business with Arsenal, in the shape of Pennsylvania-born defender, Auston Trusty. Trusty signed for the Gunners in January, went back on loan to the Rapids, then returned to England for a second loan move with Birmingham City.
This is common practice at Manchester City, who have the City Football Group, comprising of clubs around the world that they can sign youngsters from and use as loan ports for their own academy talents.
Given the size of KSE, it's perhaps more of a surprise that they haven't branched out into more football clubs around the world. Building a network could benefit Arsenal in terms of being able to pick up young talent across the globe: the club have a history of uncovering gems from France under Arsene Wenger, from Spain with legendary scout Francis Cagigao, a relationship with Belgian side Beveren between 2001 and 2006 and more recently in Brazil, with the likes of Gabriel Martinelli and Marquinhos plucked from relative obscurity.
There are clear commercial benefits, too, from having bases across the world, with Manchester City being prominent in New York, Yokohama, Melbourne and Mumbai, cities more likely to garner new fans, along with Troyes, Girona and Palermo, where starlets may be spotted before anyone else.
Affiliate clubs can also be vehicles for coaching talent. Take former Invincible Patrick Vieira, who finished his career at the Etihad before taking first senior management role came stateside with New York City FC – one of City's sister clubs – or the Red Bull model that has seen the likes of Jesse Marsch and Marco Rose manage in both Salzburg and Leipzig.
Given how strong Arsenal's identity has become in recent seasons under Mikel Arteta – with alumni Per Mertesacker, Edu Gaspar and Jack Wilshere all finding jobs at London Colney – having an outreach programme of sorts steeped in Arsenal DNA could become another way that the north Londoners fast-track talent both on the pitch and in the dugout.
Could you imagine Martin Odegaard retiring in his late 30s and moving to MLS, Europe or even the Far East to take his first steps in management, with the idea of coming back to Arsenal eventually?
Where would Arsenal buy an affiliate club?
The obvious answer would be the pond where Arsenal seem to be fishing in most right now: Brazil. Technical director Edu Gaspar has links to the Brazilian national team and has been the catalyst in signing players from that particular market.
Having an established base in Brazil – perhaps even an academy – could be transformative for Arsenal's long-term future. Work permits, however, are actually more of a problem for some European players these days – and in some respects, an affiliate club in Portugal might make more sense.
As has been proven by a slew of Portuguese exports thriving in the Premier League in recent years, the country's Primeira Liga provides a smooth adaptation to the English game, while playing top-level Portuguese football would tick permit boxes. The Spanish top tier is unfortunately more competitive, with the Segunda Division having a wage cap. That would eliminate players like Reiss Nelson, thought to be on £15,000 a week, from loan moves. Different countries have different caps on non-EU players, too.
A romantic may suggest France, Arsene Wenger's homeland and the scene of so many famous Gunners' captures – especially with the club still holding a mythical status to kids growing up in the country (cheers, Thierry). Netherlands' Eredivisie offers a technical challenge, too, with Vitesse a fine example, having loaned countless Chelsea stars over the years. Germany provides a significant stumbling block with the 50+1 rule.
Perhaps KSE could invest further afield. The Gunners threatened to tap the Japanese market when they signed Junichi Inamoto in the early 2000s, while title winners such as Lauren, Kanu and Kolo Toure all boosted the club to African audiences. An affiliate in any of these places would continue Highbury's multicultural legacy while getting a headstart to talents around the world.
And then there's the rather safe and boring option of a club in Britain. Arsenal are strong when it comes to hoovering up London talent – sometimes, in Eddie Nketiah's case, when the talent has been let go from Chelsea. Securing a team somewhere else in the UK could provide first-team opportunities sooner without youngsters having to leave home.
This is all conjecture, though. Fans may speculate about where and why Arsenal could expand their reach but ultimately, if there is to be such a deal, it won't be anything like a transfer. Sorry guys… no leaks.
“Confidentiality is a challenge in any mergers and acquisitions project,” Tim Lewis told the Times (opens in new tab) in 2011. For now, the Arsenal Football Group is nothing more than a pipedream – just keep an eye out for more business conducted between the Gunners and Colorado Rapids in future transfer windows…
More Arsenal stories
Arsenal have been linked with a move for Juventus midfielder Manuel Locatelli; the Gunners are said to have already made contact with the Italy international's camp.
Meanwhile, one man who could be heading for the Emirates Stadium exit door is Gabriel Martinelli: there's been talk of Chelsea making a shock swoop for the winger.
In other news, Aaron Ramsdale says that the Gunners have been motivated to succeed this season by the disappointment of missing out on Champions League qualification last term. The goalkeeper was speaking after Saturday's 3-1 North London derby win over Tottenham – a result which kept Mikel Arteta's side top of the Premier League.
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Mark White has been a staff writer on FourFourTwo since joining in January 2020, writing pieces for both online and the magazine. An encyclopedia of football shirts and boots knowledge – both past and present – Mark has also been to the FA Cup and League Cup finals for FFT and has written pieces for the mag ranging on subjects from Bobby Robson's season at Barcelona to Robinho's career. He once saw Tyrone Mings at a petrol station in Bournemouth but felt far too short to ask for a photo.