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Players who bought a football club

Footballers who have bought their own club, including David…

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Beyond playing at the highest, perhaps the only greater dream-fulfilling thrill is owning your own football club, being the one in charge and making the decisions that will build an institution according to your own philosophy.

It isn’t something that every ex-player can do, or would indeed have the patience for, but plenty have tried their hand at club ownership in varying capacities over the year. And after watching the wonderful DAZN documentary titled ‘Ronaldo: El Presidente’ about R9 owning Real Valladolid, we thought it was about time we took a look at some other players who’ve bought football clubs over the years.

Gheorghe Hagi started Viitorul Constanta in 2009
Gheorghe Hagi started Viitorul Constanta in 2009 | Soccrates Images/Getty Images

Romanian legend Gheorghe Hagi, often referred to as the ‘Maradona of the Carpathians’ during his glittering playing career, created his own club when he acquired the playing rights of lower league team Ovidiu and then launched Viitorul Constanta in 2009.

With Viitorul promoted to the top flight for the first time in 2012, Hagi himself was manager from 2014 until 2020, even delivering a Romanian league title in 2016/17.

His son and current Romania international Ianis Hagi made his debut for the club aged 16 in 2014.

Eden Hazard, Demba Ba
Eden Hazard & Demba Ba founded a club together in San Diego | Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Former Chelsea teammates Demba Ba and Eden Hazard started their own club in San Diego in 2016, naming the team San Diego 1904 in reference to S being the 19th letter of the alphabet and D being the fourth.

Hazard’s ex-Lille colleagues Yohan Cabaye and Moussa Sow were also involved at the start, although Ba was initially the primary investor and has remained club chairman.

Cabaye and Sow are no longer listed among San Diego 1904’s founders but Ba and Hazard are still owners of the team, who play matches in the National Independent Soccer Association (NISA).

Francis Lee
Man City legend Francis Lee became chairman of the club after making millions in the toilet paper industry | Evening Standard/Getty Images

Francis Lee was a Manchester City legend as a player in the late 1960s and early 1970s, winning a league title, FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup all in the space of a few years.

After retirement, Lee went on to make his fortune in toilet paper manufacturing and then returned to his former club as chairman in 1994 in a £3m takeover.

Sadly for Lee and City, things went very badly. The club was relegated from the Premier League in 1996 and he stepped down as chairman in 1998 when they were on the verge of dropping into the third tier. He retained his shares though, eventually selling to Thaksin Shinawatra in 2007.

Ex-Wigan owner Dave Whelan was a footballer in the 1950s & 1960s
Ex-Wigan owner Dave Whelan was a footballer in the 1950s & 1960s | Nathan Stirk/Getty Images

Long before his 23-year ownership of Wigan Athletic, which saw the club rise from the lower leagues of English football and ultimately win the FA Cup, Dave Whelan was himself a professional player in the 1950s and 1960s.

Although he eventually played on for Crewe in the lower leagues, Whelan’s career at the highest level was effectively ended when he suffered a broken leg while playing for Blackburn in the 1960 FA Cup final at Wembley.

Whelan began his retail empire in the late 1960s and his JJB Sports stores became a nationwide brand in the 1980s and 1990s, buying Wigan, then a bottom division club, in 1995.

Mohamed Kallon bought a club in Sierra Leone in 2002
Mohamed Kallon bought a club in Sierra Leone in 2002 | Grazia Neri/Getty Images

Former Inter and Monaco forward Mohamed Kallon is Sierra Leone’s most famous footballing export and a national icon, purchasing his own club in his homeland in 2002.

Kallon was playing for Inter at the time and paid an estimated $30,000 for Sierra Fisheries, a club that had been national champions three times in the 1980s. It was even renamed FC Kallon.

He went on to join his own club as a player in 2009 and later finished his career there during a second spell between 2012 and 2016, although he actually played his final game in 2014.

Didier Drogba
Didier Drogba was player-owner for USL club Phoenix Rising | Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images

Most footballers who buy clubs do so after they have retired from playing, but Chelsea legend Didier Drogba became a player-owner when he purchased a minority stake in United Soccer League (USL) club Phoenix Rising in 2017 at the same time as signing for them.

Drogba was still playing for Phoenix at the age of 40 and helped the club win the USL Western Conference title in 2018.

He retired at the end of that season but retained his investment in the team and began working on a bid to gain entry into MLS in the future.

Man Utd's Class of '92 are Salford City co-owners
Man Utd’s Class of ’92 are Salford City co-owners | Dave J Hogan/Getty Images

Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Phil Neville, members of Manchester United’s golden generation that became collectively known as the ‘Class of ‘92’, pooled together in 2014 to buy little known non-league club Salford City.

Later that year, Singaporean billionaire Peter Lim purchased a 50% stake in the club, while David Beckham, who hadn’t been part of the initial takeover, came on board with a 10% stake in 2019.

The former United stars controversially changed Salford’s colours from orange to red, but their investment has made a huge impact on the pitch, resulting in the club reaching the Football League in 2019 and still well ahead of the original target to reach the Championship by 2029.

David Beckham's Inter Miami club began playing in MLS in 2020
David Beckham’s Inter Miami club began playing in MLS in 2020 | RHONA WISE/Getty Images

One of the reasons David Beckham didn’t initially join his former Manchester United colleagues in their Salford City takeover was that he was extremely busy trying to get his own club off the ground over in the sunnier climes of Miami, Florida.

When Beckham had moved to MLS as a player in 2007, one of the unique conditions of his contract allowed him to purchase an expansion franchise for a fixed $25m anywhere other than New York.

He exercised that option in 2014, choosing south Florida, and led an ownership group that launched the club eventually named Inter Miami. The team made its MLS debut in 2020.

Ronaldo bought a controlling stake in Real Valladolid in 2018
Ronaldo bought a controlling stake in Real Valladolid in 2018 | Quality Sport Images/Getty Images

A former three-time FIFA World Player of the Year, Ronaldo’s first venture into club ownership came in 2014 when he invested in a minority stake in NASL club Fort Lauderdale Strikers. It was even suggested at the time that he might make a comeback as a player.

When that involvement ended, the Brazilian icon dived back into club ownership within a few years by purchasing a 51% controlling stake in La Liga club Real Valladolid.

Ronaldo paid €30m and assumed a position as new club president. In the years since he has increased his stake in Valladolid, who have remained a yo-yo side on the pitch.

Ronaldo is currently the focus of the brand new documentary series, ‘Ronaldo- El Presidente’. Having taken his talents from the pitch to the boardroom, the show follows his life as owner and president of Real Valladolid. You can watch the six-part series exclusively on DAZN now.

Source: 90 Mins

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