Why is FSG keen on buying Bordeaux – and could Liverpool benefit?


Fenway Sports Group’s interest in buying French club Bordeaux signals a step up in the group’s pursuit of expanding its football portfolio.

A deal to purchase the Ligue 2 outfit is still some way from being realised, but FSG’s interest reveals much about its overarching strategy.

So what is the plan, and how could it impact on Liverpool – one of the jewels in FSG’s sporting crown?


What exactly happened yesterday?

It was revealed today 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 next 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. That idea was presented to the DNCG on Tuesday with negotiations ongoing. They have around a fortnight 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.”

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Bordeaux’s cup game against Nice last season was a rare foray back into the big time (Romain Perrocheau/AFP via Getty Images)

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 likes of 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’s staff to say that moves were under way to buy another 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 who 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 club.

Why are Bordeaux considered attractive?

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

Icons of the French game, including Zinedine Zidane, Christophe Dugarry and Jean Tigana, all played for Bordeaux, while Real Madrid’s Aurelien Tchouameni came through their youth system.

However, the last few years have been tough. Bordeaux entered administration in 2021 and were relegated to Ligue 2 a year later after finishing bottom of the top flight and conceding 91 goals. 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, before a disappointing campaign last season where they came 12th.

Bordeaux are currently managed by former Liverpool winger Albert Riera, who joined the club 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 has remained strong: they still regularly attract 20,000 fans to their Matmut Atlantique stadium, which opened in 2015.

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

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Bordeaux’s impressive Matmut Atlantique stadium belies their financial problems (Romain Perrocheau/AFP via Getty Images)

“Bordeaux is the definition of a sleeping giant,” said David Gluzman, a director at Deutsche Pfandbriefbank, 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 total absence of competitors within a 200km radius.

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

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

Why are they in such a mess?

Bordeaux were placed in administration in 2021 after King Street, a U.S investment firm which had become the club’s accidental owners after a failed 2018 takeover attempt by American businessman Joe DaGrosa, said they no longer wished to support the club financially.

King Street had lent DaGrosa and his Miami-based sports investment firm GACP Sports money for a buy-out but the two groups fell out over mounting losses and future strategy.

Like many French clubs, Bordeaux were hit hard by the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the collapse of a TV deal with Mediapro, an unproven Chinese-backed company, whose French football venture, Telefoot, went bust.

The following year, they were relegated to Ligue 2 under new owner Gerard Lopez, the former president of the Lotus Formula One team, who joined after leaving Lille under a cloud amid hefty debts. Lopez also owns Boavista in Portugal, who are in a dire financial position themselves, and where they have been issues with delayed payment of wages to players and other club employees.

Bordeaux remain in a perilous financial position. Gluzman estimates that it would cost around €40million to fund the upcoming season due to the club’s extremely high fixed costs (Bordeaux have by far the highest wage bill in the French second tier, over 125 per cent of their annual turnover according to their last published financial statements). They also rent their training ground.

When extra costs such as unpaid or deferred stadium rents, money owed to previous lenders including King Street and Fortress Investment Group, a possible settlement which former manager Vladimir Petkovic claims is due to him and a negative transfer balance, the total bill to buy them could amount to around €80m.

Who at FSG is driving this?

This process has been led by former Liverpool sporting director Michael Edwards since he returned to the fold as FSG’s CEO of football in March. One of the big attractions of the job for Edwards was the owners’ desire to embark on a multi-club model.

As well as working to identify the right addition to the FSG stable, Edwards has been busy putting an executive structure in place in readiness for a takeover to be agreed.

Julian Ward was brought back as FSG’s technical director in May — a year after stepping down as Liverpool sporting director. Ward’s responsibilities include presiding over the management of the football operation of any club which is purchased.

Liverpool


Julian Ward (left) and Michael Edwards are driving the multi-club expansion at FSG (Liverpool Football Club)

Pedro Marques, who reports to Ward, was appointed FSG director of football development as Edwards felt he was the ideal fit given their expansion plans. Marques has plenty of experience in the multi-club structure having been global lead of football performance at City Football Group prior to a successful spell at Benfica as technical director.

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GO DEEPER

Who is Pedro Marques, FSG’s new director of football development?

Are there any benefits for Liverpool?

When Gordon emailed staff to confirm Edwards’ appointment in March, 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,” he wrote.

Just how beneficial it proves to be, 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 the European Union can help to help 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, teams typically adopt the same playing style and the parent club has more control over what 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 that also owns Chelsea. The club’s season last year threatened to be derailed as the mood turned toxic, although they did ultimately avoid relegation from Ligue 1.

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

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Strasbourg fans have been angered by the club’s ownership (Tobias Canales/Hans Lucas/AFP via Getty Images)

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

Yet French football currently has potentially far bigger concerns, not least the scramble to secure a TV rights deal. Ligue 2 have secured a contract with beIN, but Ligue 1 remains without a deal with the new season just over a month away.

Clubs who had been expecting to share around €1billion per season will have 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 a European club, although that was always likely to be the first step in the project.

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

(Top photos: John W Henry and Bordeaux fans; Getty Images)



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