Consistently baffling, the Italian process of co-ownership is explained here...

The cause of much confusion and heavily misunderstood, the practice of selling a player in co-ownership is the cause of much debate between fans and observers of Italian football and is viewed with much scepticism by many. Executed properly however, the system is not only a useful one in terms of cost, it can also hugely benefit all three parties (both clubs and the player himself) involved in any particular deal. Indeed there are eleven members of the most recent Italy squad who have, at one point in their careers, been traded in this fashion. Sadly, thanks to a number of high profile examples, most notably by Inter, Bologna and Juventus under the stewardship of former Sporting Director Alessio Secco, it is frowned upon with supporters questioning the reasoning behind a deal.

Co-ownership – known in Italy as ‘compartecipazione’ - is the practice which sees two clubs own the contract of a player jointly, with each having a half share. The player is only registered to play for one club, which retains his playing rights. It is also a system frequently used in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, although in recent times those countries have, along with Portugal, drifted more towards third-party ownership, most famously seen in the case of Carlos Tevez prior to his move to Manchester City.

The benefits of co-ownership seem, at first glance, to be heavily in favour of the smaller clubs who are able to secure the services of a player they could never seriously compete to sign outright under other circumstances. This is partly true, as owning ‘half’ a player gives them far greater control over their squads than a simple loan arrangement – which can often be cancelled at short notice – ever would and big clubs regularly insert half a players rights in order to buy a different player from these clubs.

However, the player also sees his decision to move rewarded, the financial investment of his new club almost always means regular playing time will be given, which is not always the case with loan moves, as Federico Macheda can attest after his wasted six month spell with Sampdoria last term. This also benefits the original club who can see their man develop in a less pressured environment with that same playing time being something they themselves would have been unable to grant in most cases.

To simplify the concept, we can create two fictional examples. Imagine Napoli have two promising twenty year old strikers whose path to the first team is blocked by the collection of impressive strikers already in the squad. They loan one to Bologna for free while selling the other to Parma for €3 million. The first player spends half a season kicking his heels on the bench and returns to the San Paolo older, still inexperienced and disillusioned with the way the club has managed his career.

Contrast that with the second who, because of the fee paid, makes regular appearances for the Ducali, eventually becoming a regular in the starting line-up and scoring goals at an impressive rate. At the end of the season, Napoli decide to bring him home as their new vice-Cavani, paying the Tardini outfit €5.5m. Initially, to those unfamiliar with the practice, it is easy to say they have paid €2.5m for their own player, but how can you put a price on the experience and confidence gained during his time there? Napoli would see it as an investment in their player and Parma would be compensated for the time and coaching they had given. Even if the striker had flopped and proven himself unable to play in Serie A, Napoli would have received that initial €3m rather than taken a loss and sped up their assessment of him exponentially.

Of course there are number of high profile cases where clubs made real errors of judgement which ended up costing them large sums to rectify, the biggest of which probably concerns Brazilian striker Adriano. In 2002 Inter ‘sold’ half his rights to Parma for £4 million only to see him score 22 goals in 36 league appearances and buying back that same share cost Inter £13.5 million.

One important point to remember is that FIGC rules dictate these agreements must be in place for a minimum of two years, and have strict guidelines. Every year, towards the end of June clubs must renew these deals which usually sees a raft of confirmed deals ahead of the deadline, as failure to agree by then sees the players rights go to a blind auction between the clubs involved. In Italy this is known as ‘going to the envelopes’.

Directors hate the thought of losing a player for less than market value, or being outbid for a player they wish to keep and therefore do all they can to avoid the process. A few years ago Fiorentina, back in Serie A after their demotion to the lower leagues paid €13.5 million for half shares in Giorgio Chiellini, Fabrizio Micolli and Enzo Maresca only to lose all three for €6.7 million at auction a year later. Their precocious financial state prevented better bids and Luciano Moggi – who often used co-ownership of youngsters as a bargaining tool - took full advantage, securing the services of three quality players for a nominal fee.

Fiorentina themselves however benefited in the case of Danish International Martin Jorgensen, who they signed for virtually nothing after Udinese put in a zero bid for him at the envelopes. Last summer Bologna famously made errors on the forms of both Albin Ekdal and Emiliano Viviano, losing out on two men who had played key roles in their season. These examples show club management are right to fear this part of the process, which generally sees them do everything they can to avoid letting the deadline pass and often sees a good player remain at a smaller club for longer than the other side would like, but it is clearly better than losing the player at auction.

So, far from being something to fear, it should be embraced and seen for what it really is, one club improving their squad and another making a hugely positive impact on the career of a young player which they believe in. As Ignazio Abate and Sebastian Giovinco can testify, co-ownership can be the best thing that ever happened.

Adam is a regular contributor to IBWM, and the co-founder of JuventiKNOWS. He can be found on Twitter @Adz77.

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AuthorAdam Digby