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"A cattle market masquerading as a football club"

KSK Beveren, a team in Belgium's first division, is not your typical football club. Its purpose is not to win games per se, but to make a profit by developing players and selling them. Hence the description quoted in the title to this post, taken from Gabriele Marcotti's article in The Times.

The Belgian first division side seems to exist for no other reason than to serve as a middle-man for African footballing talent. They make no secret of it and, in fact, are proud of the efficient system they have set up, which has resulted in a situation where 16 of their 21 first-team players hail from Ivory Coast. Most are very young and most will be sent home if they fail to find a buyer after a year or two. It’s a bit like those fancy pet stores where cats and dogs are showcased for a fixed period of time and then, if they go unsold, are dispatched back to whatever pound or shelter they came from.

The Beveren "system" has produced dividends for Jean-Marc Guillou, its architect, a close friend of Arsène Wenger and former manager of ASEC Abidjan, perennial Ivory Coast champions. A few years ago Guillou realised that, while more or less honest agents had been trying to bring African footballers to Europe for decades, there was no formalised structure in place. And such a structure could be immensely lucrative.

So he put together an investment syndicate called Goal and invested £1 million to take control of Beveren, who were close to bankruptcy. He also pumped money into academies back in Ivory Coast and began moving players across wholesale. In economic terms, you could say he is vertically integrated, like the Flemish diamond tycoons of old. He owns the "mines" that dig out the players, the "workshops" that polish and cut them into finished products and the "shops" that showcase them to the wealthy buyers. In the past six months, the set-up has yielded a cool £4 million from the sale of only three players: Gilles Yapi Yapo, the winger, to Nantes, Yaya Touré (Kolo’s younger brother), the midfield player, to Metalurg Donetsk and Emanuel Eboué, the defender, to Arsenal.

"Beveren were a club on the verge of dying," Laurent Denuit, football correspondent for La Dernière Heure, said. "If Guillou hadn’t come, they would have died. He was looking for a European club to develop his business, a club where he could put his (African) players. Thus the scenario has been the same for the last few years. Beveren sell their best players and they are instantly replaced by new ones (from Ivory Coast)."

Shrewd fellow, that Guillou. His next project is a training center in Thailand.