Lost amidst the first week of the European Championship and the announcement of next season’s Premier League fixtures it would have been easy to miss the news that Crystal Palace had joined the Global Football Alliance. Described as a strategic partnership between clubs operating in different countries Palace became the sixteenth member of a network that will ultimately consist of 25 clubs across the world. The burning question is what exactly is the Global Football Alliance, what are its aims and how will it benefit Palace?
Football has increasingly become a global game over the last few decades with English clubs in particular taking advantage of the expansion of the Premier League’s international reach. Many of the larger clubs have recognised this and have been building their own networks, for example Manchester City established the City Football Group eight years ago and CFG currently incorporates eleven clubs, including New York City, Yokohama F. Marinos and Mumbai City, that share the same philosophy, approach and infrastructure in running a football club.
While Chelsea have not created a group like City, they have built an informal partnership with Vitesse Arnhem over the last ten years that has seen a staggering 29 players go on loan to the Dutch club from the Blues. The main link between the two clubs stems from the close ties between Roman Abramovich and his Dutch counterpart and fellow Russian tycoon Alexander Chigirinsky. As David Conn of the Guardian pointed out in 2017 “Chelsea saw the Eredivisie as an ideal environment for the further development of their own young players, who have since either stayed out on loan for years, been sold with their value enhanced, or, in a minority of cases, made it to the Chelsea first team.”
For clubs such as Palace that do not boast the financial muscle or the strong connections of City or Chelsea, the idea of building their own network is out of reach and so coming together with other like-minded clubs makes sense as chairman Steve Parish highlighted in his statement. “We are delighted to be joining the Global Football Alliance,” Parish said. “Whilst we are proud of our status as a community football club, we are ambitious about extending our global footprint. Sharing resources and information from like-minded clubs around the world will ensure we benefit from the best ideas in global football and help us to forge invaluable new relationships”.
Existing members feature some familiar European names such as AZ Alkmaar, Standard Liege and Villareal as well as clubs from further afield representing each continent stretching from Australasia’s Melbourne Victory to the Americas’ New England Revolution and Estudiantes. Although the details of how the network will operate are somewhat sketchy, with scant information available on its website, the concept pretty much does exactly what it says on the tin.
There are a few key areas of co-operation highlighted, of which recruitment and scouting form the most immediately beneficial. Tapping into local knowledge and expertise across twenty-odd countries could unearth players that would never have appeared on Palace’s radar. Maintaining an international scouting network is a complex and expensive operation so by sharing data between them, all the clubs involved can access a vast pool of previously unidentified talent in an efficient and low cost manner.
Secondly, the whole area of sports science, which has been evolving at a rapid pace, can offer tangible benefits in providing invaluable support to the players as the clubs will share all the latest technological advances in medicine and treatment. Beyond these improvements in both finding the right players and then looking after them, there are naturally financial considerations involved in the mix with the prospect of joint commercial partnerships/sponsorships and so-called “digital transformation” to improve revenues.
The man behind the network is Bernard Caiazzo, the president of Saint Etienne since 2004, who described it as follows – “The Global Football Alliance brings together clubs from six continents to share best practices, find synergies and reflect on the future of football. We will ask what global football will look like in 10 years and how can we contribute to a better future. Crystal Palace FC will be an important addition to the alliance, highlighting its focus on innovation and modern football practices.”
While most Palace fans were fervently hoping that any communication emanating from the club might be focused on filling the managerial position which has been left vacant since Roy Hodgson’s departure, joining the Global Football Alliance might be a project that will deliver more long-term advantages.