The title “Juventus gambit” is bound to raise questions. Before I explain, let me illustrate a point upfront. How many transfers do you think Juventus has done this season? Transfermarkt has the answer; 74 in, 79 out, which includes youth players. This isn’t incidental, last season the grand Old Lady of Italian football had 75 incoming players compared to 81 players leaving Juventus. The season before that, the numbers were at 59 incoming, 63 outgoing.
These are staggering numbers, to say the least, mindboggling would come closer to an accurate description of the status quo. When you look at these figures more closely, you can see that they are somewhat inflated by the sheer number of loan deals Juventus does. The Bianconeri seem to loan a tonne of players away every season, despite most of these never reaching first team status. This raises the question regarding the motives of the Turin club in doing so.
This rather straightforward question yields an equally uncomplicated answer; it’s a lucrative business to loan away youngsters like that, with the added side-effect that those who develop spectacularly can be integrated into the first team squad. Let’s take a look at an example taken from real life.
The dashing youngster above is Vykintas Slivka, a Lithuanian midfielder. Juventus signed him from Lithuanian top side Ekranas, before loaning him away to Modena, NK Gorica, FC Den Bosch and Ascoli. Presumably, most of these clubs paid for his wages on top of a small loan fee. Another example of such a player is Dutch-Moroccan Ajax midfielder Ouasim Bouy, bought by Juventus but loaned to the likes of Panathinaikos, FC Zwolle, HSV, Brescia and Palermo. While we’re dealing with relatively small numbers here, many small numbers will still add up to a rather hefty sum. This strategy is what I have dubbed the Juventus gambit, and in this article, I will show you how to replicate this strategy in FM.
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The basic strategy
It really is a simple concept and not one that is terribly farfetched. I ended up calling it the Juventus Gambit, but pretty much any big club in the world is doing it, some are just less successful at it than others. You start off by hoarding players. Ideally, you want to sign young promising players, but there’s room to manoeuvre in this department. Just start off by stockpiling talented players.
After assessing their usefulness regarding your own squad’s needs, you ship out the excess players on loan deals. In reality, that means around 90% of the new arrivals are immediately moved on to other clubs. These can be feeder clubs, or you can just offer these excess players out on loan deals. Keep in mind that feeder clubs generally do not pay you any money in terms of wages or loan fees.
Every six months or so, the performances of this armada of loanees need to be evaluated. The players who are actually underperforming are sold off, while the majority is sent out on loan again or kept at their current loan club. Since most deals are for 100% of the wages in all circumstances as well as a small loan fee, these loanees are immediately recouping their transfer fee for you. If you signed these players as free agents, you start to make a profit almost instantaneously. The odd diamond-in-the-rough, who develops spectacularly, can always be bled into the first team squad of course.
The profits you make from such a setup are large dependant on the scale of course, but they are generally reinvested into the structure so as to grow the organisation as a whole. When it’s all set up correctly, the financial aid such a setup provides is an excellent way to help a smaller club grow and possibly attract one or two big names. So in a nutshell…
I have applied this strategy to my current team, which is Kawasaki Frontale of the J-League in Japan. Over the past three seasons, the financial benefits I have reaped from this money-making scheme have enabled the club to not only sign the best players in Japan but also to develop the monetary muscle to ward off European clubs as they try to unsettle my stars. I’ll take you through the steps I have taken season by season.
The first season saw me experimenting with the sheer amount of loan players I could get away with. I signed a lot of African and Brazilian players on free transfers, as well as a few American and English players and the odd European player. Regarding the success rate of loaning them away, it was a mixed bag. Some of them easily found new clubs, others had to be loaned away at 100% wages but no loan fees.
The first season saw us rake in €2.6 million in loan fees. Not a bad start, but hardly the financial kickstart I had imagined. This wasn’t nearly enough to make the club grow. I needed to boost my income, which meant I needed to work on a much larger scale.
Before investing the €2.6 million in a lot of new players, I sat down to rethink my overall strategy. From the transfers in season 1, I learned that youth players, by which I mean players under the age of 21, are not that exciting if you’re purely in it for the money. Younger players need time to develop before teams are willing to pay for them. The same applied to certain nationalities. If they require work permits in virtually any other country but their native one and the domestic league from that country isn’t very strong, they are probably never going to find a club.
The third point, which wasn’t directly player-related, I stumbled across was a lack of knowledge in the scouting department. For this gambit to start making money, I needed to bring in larger amounts of players, quality players at that and preferably at low prices. The domestic market was out of order for me, mostly due to a lack of funds. That meant I had to focus on foreign markets, but I did not have the knowledge of these markets due to a lack of scouts.
After securing the maximum number of scouts possible, which was a bit of a challenge in the J-League, I decided to focus on a specific set of countries for my new prospects.
- The US – mostly because US players can be acquired dirt cheap as long as they are not with the first team squad of an MLS club. The MLS clubs also have a bit of money so they would be willing to pay for a US player on a loan deal.
- Mexico – the Mexican clubs have a lot of money to throw around, and the league has some serious foreigner restrictions. Bringing in domestic players is something Mexican clubs will pay for.
- Brazil – there’s an abundance of local talent. Players rotting away in the reserves of the big clubs are good enough to play for bottom half Serie A teams or top Serie B clubs. If I can get them cheap, I will definitely be able to find a club to loan them to.
- Argentina – again, there’s the abundance of talent. The domestic league lacks the financial power of the Brazilian league, but I do have high hopes of finding clubs for these players.
- Australia – since A-League clubs cannot do any domestic transfers between clubs, you can often pick up decent talents there for relatively small fees. Because of these same transfer restrictions, Australian players are generally in demand as well. Even though the A-League lacks the financial power of some of the other Asian leagues, you could still get 10k to 20k a month for an Aussie prospect.
- Various African leagues – while none of these leagues has any real financial power, they do produce a fair amount of talented players who are available relatively cheap. European clubs tend to scout these countries as well, and they are interested in these players if I can bring them in. I omitted Egypt from this list because Egyptian clubs often ask for silly money for their starlets.
After increasing both the quality and intake of players, it came as no surprise that the financial benefits of the gambit increased dramatically. The Brazilian players especially seemed to be in high regard, and we managed to loan away some academy graduates as well. The presence of a few English players proved exceptionally lucrative, as Premier League and Championship level clubs apparently pay insane amounts of money for an English player who is good enough to sit on their bench. Please keep in mind that these players were not cheap to acquire in terms of their wages, but since every loan deal I conduct is at 100% wages, this is not an issue as long as I manage to find a new club for them.
The financial benefits we made increased and since most of our players performed well during their loan deals, so did their reputation. This, in turn, meant that I could charge more for next year’s loan deals.
Season 3, which is currently still underway, has been the most successful to date in terms of this gambit. I seem to have perfected the strategy in terms of scouting and determining which players to sign and which ones to ignore. Roughly summed up, these are my criteria.
That is not to say that I never buy U20 players, but those are generally not a part of the gambit. I learned that the hard way when I signed a few talented youngsters from the Côte d’Ivoire yet was unable to secure loan deals for them because they just weren’t ready for first team football.
As you can tell, I haven’t even detailed each and every loan deal that I made this season. What is interesting and intriguing about this picture is the total sum on the bottom of the page. €27 million. In loan deals alone. Let that number sink in a bit. €27 million. That’s more than most clubs make selling players.
The opportunities and pitfalls
So what are the opportunities such a human-trafficking system like this offers to your organisation? Let’s focus on that final number there again. €27 million in income in a single season… Since every deal is done at 100% wages and most players are brought in on free transfers, that’s mostly pure profit. You can use that to improve facilities, sign additional staff and fund the signings of many more players. It provided the financial backbone to make the club grow.
On top of that, the law of large numbers starts to play a role. When you sign that many players, you are bound to uncover some serious talent as well. Even with foreigner restrictions in place, there’s a conveyor belt of ready and able talented players set up. If you can’t use such a player, loan him away, and as soon as a spot in the team opens up, you can recall them, fit and ready to play.
That is not to say that there aren’t any pitfalls. The gambit relies on you being able to loan these players away. If that fails, you’re stuck with often expensive players you cannot field. That eats into your profit margin big time due to wage costs, not to mention the strain it places on your coaching staff and the overall squad morale. Players who cannot compete in competitive matches are often unhappy, demanding greater playing time and unsettling the rest of the squad.
The presence of so many players, even if it is on a temporary basis, often suffocates the growth and possibilities of your own youth academy graduates. They have to be exceptionally talented to make it, otherwise, they become more meat for the grinder, and they are inducted into the gambit. There are quite a few managers out there who value their youth academy graduates, so this is a fair warning up front; using this gambit will limit their possibilities.
I touched upon this subject earlier, but to reiterate my point; if this gambit wants to have a snowball’s chance in hell of succeeding, it needs an extensive scouting setup to work. This costs money, which means you cannot afford to have too many errant signings in the initial stages of implementing the gambit.
The final pitfall is more of a moral objection. Essentially, this is a large-scale human trafficking system you’re setting up. Sure, most of them are decently-paid professional athletes, but that doesn’t change the essence of the gambit.