The City Football Group reaches Bolivia – how much further will the expedition run?

THE City Football Group (CFG), Manchester City’s holding company, continues to expand its influence, forming a partnership with Bolivia’s leading football institution, Club Bolivar.

This latest move by CFG, coming just a few months after Belgian club SK Lommel and France’s Troyes became the 9th and 10th clubs to come under the influence of the group, is different than all past transactions executed by CFG. 

While past deals have seen CFG buy a stake in a club, Club Bolivar of La Paz, the capital of Bolivia, becomes the first partner club. In this role, Bolivar will now be able to access CFG’s proprietary technology, strategic advice and scouting and coaching methodologies. On the business side, CFG will help Bolivar to grow its partnership revenues and support the development of the club’s key executives. It’s a pact of cooperation.

Bolivar were founded in 1925 and named after the founder of the country, Simon Bolivar. They have won the Bolivian league 29 times. It seems an unlikely match-up for Bolivia is South America’s poorest country and life is very tough for much of the population. The country has suffered droughts and has a track record of military coups and corruption. Economically, Bolivia has over-concentrated on industries such as tin, silver and cocoa, making it vulnerable when there’s a downturn.

If that’s not enough, Bolivian teams have to play at high altitude, in fact, La Paz is almost 12,000 feet above sea level, making it’s the highest capital city in the world. It is often  referred to as a “vertical city”.

The Bolivian Primera Division includes two teams from La Paz,  Bolivar and their fierce rivals, The Strongest. The 2020 season was won by Always Ready from El Alto, a city adjacent to the capital. In the 2020 Copa Libertadores, only Bolivar won through to the group stage, although they finished third and moved into the Copa Sudamericana where they were beaten by Argentina’s Lanus. Bolivar have participated in the Copa Libertadores 28 times and reached the semi-finals twice, in 1986 and 2014. 

From Bolivar’s perspective, there are many positives from this link-up. At present, the club trails behind the South America’s leading lights, notably those from Argentina and Brazil. The club’s president, Marcelo Claure, called it a dream becoming reality: “Club Bolivar joins the City Football Group family as a partner, consolidating a long-term project developing world-class football, corporate and infrastructure standards that will enable Club Bolivar to become even bigger. We will utilise the expertise and advice that CFG brings to continue in our goal to place Bolivar as a top club in Latin America.”

There’s also hopes that the partnership will prove influential in Bolivia, so much so that World Cup qualification might become commonplace as opposed to a rare interlude. The CONMEBOL programme for 2022 is already underway and Bolivia are bottom of the 10-country league. Bolivia are the lowest-ranked South American nation in FIFA’s rankings and have qualified only three times. They’ve yet to win a game and have scored just one goal in their six games in the finals, the last time being 1994 in the United States.

As for the CFG, South America is seen as a key market, hence they already have Uruguayan club Atlético Torque in their portfolio. The region is always rich in raw talent and having unhindered access is to it is a big advantage – the signing of Gabriel Jesus in 2016 was a significant moment for Manchester City as they acquired the young striker directly from Palmeiras before he had been exported to Europe.

Torque have now gone through a CFG rebranding and are now known as Montevideo City Torque. In 2019, they were promoted to the Primera Divisíon and are in only the second top flight campaign in their history. They are performing well and are third in the table.

Montevideo is as good place as any to anchor the CFG South American project. The Uruguayan league is almost totally centred on the capital and the country has a rich football culture. Torque will undoubtedly play a major role in building the franchise. 

How big will the City Football Group become and how many more clubs will it sweep-up? So far, investments have been made across the continents. The City flag has been planted in China, India, Australia, the US, Japan, Belgium, France and Spain, as well as Uruguay and Bolivia. Basically, CFG’s presence is working strategically across all regions. Furthermore, there are constant rumours about where they will strike next – Russia, Malaysia, Colombia and Egypt are just a few areas of speculation.

CFG is quite a unique construction and doesn’t sit well with some people. It is the best example of the corporatisation of football, or is it, as some critics put it, the “Disneyfication” of the game? However you define it, whether you see it as a menace or a model to admire, you sense the portfolio isn’t finished yet.


Photo: PA Images

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