As those who have spent long nights dealing with Serie A clubs on Football Manager are aware, there exists a peculiarity in the Italian transfer system: shared ownership.
Not to be confused with the highly controversial practice of third-party ownership, "shared ownership" does exactly what it says on the tin: A player's ownership is split between two clubs (always a 50/50 split in Italy) whose managements then decide where he will play that season.
This practice is frequently used by bigger sides instead of the loan system.
Typically, if a big side has a player on the edge of their squad, they will sell half of his contract to a mid-table side where he will be sent to develop. That mid-table side then has a financial interest in developing the player.
One such example of this is Ciro Immobile. In 2012, Juventus sold half their ownership in Immobile's contract to Genoa for €4 million. The following year, The Old Lady bought back their half and immediately sold it to Torino.
The 24-year-old ended up as Serie A's top scorer last season, and now both his owners have agreed to sell to a third party, who may be Borussia Dortmund, according to ESPN FC's Ben Gladwell.
At best, shared ownership is a fiscally motivated loan system that gives a club financial benefit for developing a player.
For example, Thibaut Courtois' value has increased dramatically while at Atletico Madrid. If the La Liga winners had been allowed to agree to a shared-ownership deal, they would receive a return on the time and money they had invested in the Belgian when the time came to sell him.
However, it is Chelsea that stands to fully profit from his time in Spain.
Shared ownership can also be used by clubs looking to generate some quick cash, but who do not want to send their player out. If Juve needed funds, for example, they could agree to keep Immobile and let Torino take half of his contract on the understanding they will see a return on their investment when he is sold.
For Torino, it would be a case of making a business investment with both risk and reward.
The system has its advantages, but ultimately it is rife with problems. First, the case of Immobile shows the problem when the time comes to sell to a third party. According to Gladwell on ESPN FC, Juventus believes the player is worth €25 million, while co-owners Torino feel he can be sold for €18 million.
Hence, Borussia Dortmund have the headache of negotiating with two clubs who have set their own prerogatives and terms.
If a fee cannot be agreed to with BVB, there are two options for Immobile: Either Juve and Torino agree to extend their shared ownership for another year, or one club buys the other's half.
Of course, this is still contingent on both sides agreeing to a valuation for the player. If no agreement can be made, it "goes to the envelopes."
In this blind-auction arrangement, each club places a valuation in a sealed envelope, which is opened in July. The club with the highest valuation takes the player, pays half of that value and assumes full ownership.
Not only can this arduous, bureaucratic process stop a player's career from progressing elsewhere (such as Immobile in Germany), but it is open to errors. In 2011, Bologna director general Stefano Pedrelli famously filled in the blind-auction paperwork incorrectly, which inadvertently resulted in goalkeeper Emiliano Viviano being sold to Internazionale (via Football Italia).
If clubs find the process of shared ownership confusing, what hope does everyone else have?
According to ESPN FC, the Italian FA (FIGC) have decided to ban shared ownership.
At a news conference in Rome, FIGC president Giancarlo Abete explained that this will be the final season in which shared-ownership deals can be negotiated.
"Many times, questions have been raised on this issue regarding public opinion and fiscal problems, highlighting how atypical this practice is on a European and fiscal scale," he said.
This comment highlights the primary reason why abolishment is a good idea: It is out of line with the rest of Europe.
Save for Portugal and some Latin American nations, no one else practises shared ownership. The ongoing Immobile negotiations have shown that it clearly acts as a barrier to trade. Its principles also raise some ethical issues similar to that of third-party ownership, a big criticism of which is that a player has little say over his career path while his owners push through transfers with purely financial motivations.
The annual negotiations of shared ownership create a similar problem.
Not all Italian clubs will agree to the abolishment of the shared-ownership system, but objectively it's certainly a positive move by the FIGC.
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