Sávio's transfer to Man City is a dream for him - but an absolute nightmare for football
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According to reports, Manchester City have agreed to sign Brazilian winger Sávio from sister club Girona in the summer. For the 19-year-old, it’s a well-earned move to a major team off the back of a brilliant season. For City, it’s yet another huge prospect on the books, a player with the potential to be a major player in years to come. But for football as a whole, and especially the supporters of clubs who exist as underlings in a multi-club ownership group, the deal is simply depressing.
Sávio, who has scored five goals in Girona’s improbable charge at the La Liga title, was signed from Brazilian side Atlético Mineiro in 2022 by ESTAC Troyes – or, more accurately, by the City Football Group, the sports conglomerate that own Manchester City, Troyes, Girona and numerous other clubs of varying size and history across five continents. City are, in essence, buying a player from themselves by moving money between their own bank accounts.
His transfer to France was, notionally, a club record signing worth a reported €6.5m (£5.5m), but Troyes fans have never seen him play. His purchase was never about the club he was bought to ‘play’ for, but about the City Group as a whole. After a loan spell at PSV Eindhoven, he was sent to sister club Girona this year, where he has broken into the broader public consciousness. Now he will, apparently, move to City, having never worn Troyes’ colours. Their supporters will never watch their record signing in action.
That is a shame in its own right. Sávio’s dazzling direct running, electric pace and sublime technique have earned him seven assists in the league as well as those five goals, which were themselves picked up off an xG of just 3.1, a testament to his finishing, especially his knack of scoring with audacious long shots. Combined with his unquestionable work ethic, he looks like a natural fit for Pep Guardiola’s team, and alongside Oscar Bobb and Jérémy Doku, City now have three outstanding talents capable of operating effectively down the left flank.
And the player himself has had this move in his sights for some time, telling Premier League Brasil: "I have the goal of playing for City, yes, I think that when I was hired my goal was always to get to City and I'm working towards that... God willing, one day, [Guardiola] can train me."
Meanwhile, as Sávio realises his dream, Girona flourish and City play as treble winners and world champions, Troyes are languishing in the lower echelons of the French Ligue 2, and stare the distinct possibility of successive relegations in the face. In theory, they will at least turn a profit on the sale of the star player they never even saw touch the turf at the Stade de l’Aube – but in practice, the City Group pocket the money and will determine what Troyes can spend from it.
The grim reality for Troyes supporters – around 10,000 of them in the stadium, on average – is that their club is no longer run for their benefit, or even for the benefit of the team itself. They are a feeder team in a wide network of them, whose primary purpose is to support other sides around the world and to enrich their already vastly wealthy owners. The hopes and dreams of the fans are subservient to a larger goal, in which they have no stake.
Fans of other clubs have even seen their clubs’ names, crests and colours change to reflect the sky-blue branding of Manchester City. Melbourne Heart became Melbourne City and switched from red-and-white stripes to sky blue. Uruguayan outfit Club Atlético Torque became Montevideo City Torque and now have a badge which is designed to mimic City’s. Neither team could boast an extensive history – they were founded in 2009 and 2007 respectively – but whatever support they had at the time of the takeovers were forced to watch their club’s identities washed away to advertise a club with which they had no connection whatsoever.
Under such circumstances, it is perhaps no wonder that when City Group tried to add Dutch second-tier side NAC Breda to their portfolio in 2022, the fans held protests in Breda and Manchester, eventually pressuring their board into selling the club to a local consortium instead.
It may be assumed that the largesse of the Abu Dhabi-owned City Group extends beyond their free-spending flagship side, but in truth that is far from the case. They funded the signing of Sávio, albeit not for Troyes’ purposes, but the lesser lights in the City constellation seldom see the best of the group’s vast cash reserves. Girona, for example, have been under the City Group umbrella since 2018 but didn’t spend money on a single player in either the 2020/21 or 2021/22 seasons.
They have not been free spenders even since their return to the Spanish top flight, which is what makes the fact that they are placed second in La Liga, just two points behind Real Madrid, all the more remarkable – but they have still profited directly from the financial strength of the City Group by getting to borrow Sávio for a year.
There are other benefits, too. Manchester City’s scouting and coaching data is shared across all 12 teams in the group, which is no doubt a tremendous resource which would have been beyond the reach of the smaller sides involved, and it’s likely that the resources that they bring to the table have played a substantial part in Girona’s extraordinary season. Certainly, they play with a technical and tactical fluidity that belies the relatively small amount of money splashed out on the squad itself.
Perhaps the biggest benefit is simply the continued existence of the club. Troyes were in grave financial difficulties when the City Group bought them out in 2021, as were Belgian club Lommel when they came under Emirati control a year earlier. The teams survive, at the very least. Perhaps that is enough – but surely supporting a football team involves dreaming of more than just carrying on, and more than being a small and largely insignificant cog in a much grander machine.
Feeder clubs are not a new concept, of course. The idea of larger clubs using smaller sides to expand their own capacity for youth recruitment and scouting while giving their own academy players somewhere to go and develop on loan has existed for a couple of decades. But fundamentally, these were always agreements where the benefits were mutual, and, crucially, arrangements which could be ended by the junior party if they were no longer deemed to be of use.
Clubs like Troyes and Girona will never be able to break the deal and make their own decisions. And we should all consider just how we would feel if that would happen to our clubs, because multi-team ownership groups are only increasing in number and expanding, for the betterment of some but likely to the detriment of many more.