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Italian Co-Ownership Of Players To Be Abolished

Player co-ownership has been an interesting and frustrating mechanism in Italian football for a long time, but the system will be coming to an end this summer.

Claudio Villa

The co-ownership of football players has been a fact of life in Italy for some time now, a practice that has confused the hell out of people all over the world for years. Now, though, that practice is being abolished, which will be a relief for some and a catalyst of "what's next?" discussions for others.

Co-ownership was a system meant to aid in the development of players and make it more feasible for smaller clubs to improve their squads without breaking the bank. In reality, it lead to clubs stockpiling talent with other clubs footing the wage bill, or as a method for less-well-off clubs to artificially hike up their cash flow. It was a system rife with exploitation, and had one other major drawback that many didn't really think about.

With co-ownership in place, foreign clubs trying to buy Italian-owned players became much more complex. Because of the rights entanglement, clubs would either have to negotiate separate fees with both clubs, or wait impatiently for the summer and the resolution of the co-ownership before negotiating with whichever club came out with the player's rights. Either way, it made the process too slow and drove up the price too high for it to be worthwhile for most clubs.

Unlike most rule changes in Italian football, this one was initiated and carried out entirely by the FIGC, the sport's governing body in the country. While "most" Italian clubs approved of the decision, not all did, but the FIGC proceeded anyways in order to get Italy more in line with European contract regulations.

Co-ownership was done in a number of European countries in the past, but Italy was the last to maintain the practice. Some few countries (most notably Ukraine, Turkey, Portugal, and Brazil) still allow third-party ownership, where an outside interest owns a share of the player's financial rights, but most countries, including Italy, prohibit the practice, requiring that any outside stakes be bought out before signing the player.

In order to help clubs have time to work out their remaining co-ownership deals, the FIGC elected to put a one-year grace period in place to allow clubs to extend their existing arrangements, but no new co-ownership deals will be allowed. That means that the early July date for the blind bids that decide the fate of the co-owned players will be the last we'll see.

For Napoli, this means that the co-ownership deals for Jorginho and Luca Cigarini must be carefully considered in the coming weeks. Cigarini's deal was expected to be resolved one way or the other this summer (most likely ending with him staying with Atalanta), and while Jorginho's was originally expected to be extended this summer, don't be surprised if Napoli just get it over with and buy him out so they can skip the headache of dealing with it next summer. In general, this shouldn't change things too much for the club, as they haven't made significant use of the system in recent years.

Other clubs, most notably the likes of Juventus and Udinese, will have more adjustments to make. Both clubs are run smartly, though , and should be able to find still-legal mechanisms to stockpile talent and keep finding playing time for the younger, still-developing players, like Juve's Domenico Berardi with Sassuolo last season. Most likely will be buy-and-loan deals like we've seen Chelsea use with Thibaut Courtois and Romelu Lukaku, or relatively inexpensive sales with low-cost buyback clauses after a certain period of time to serve as "long term loans", like Bayern Munich did with Emre Can a year ago, or Barcelona with Bojan several years back.

Frankly, we shouldn't be sad to see co-ownerships go away. They were more trouble than they were worth most of the time, and getting more in line with how the rest of Europe operates in terms of contracts and transfers can only help Italy.