Sport Republic is building Southampton on its model.
The club is fundamentally changing, ranging from the nuts and bolts of how it functions on a day-to-day basis to driving through the long-term vision.
Compared to the way Southampton operated under previous ghost owner Gao Jisheng, where chief executive Martin Semmens and general manager Toby Steele were left to run the business capably, Sport Republic co-founders Rasmus Ankersen and Henrik Kraft are visibly more practical.
The presence of the two central figures of Kraft and Ankersen led to inevitable changes in Southampton’s board dynamics and key figures within the infrastructure.
Especially when it comes to someone like Ankersen, given his wealth of football experience and idiosyncratic ways of working. As demonstrated by the appointment of Nathan Jones as manager, he has a say in all key football decisions.
Director of Football Matt Crocker has scheduled his departure at the end of the season has brought Southampton’s hierarchy into acute focus over the past month, despite several other low-profile exits preceding Crocker’s. Including the role of director of football, Southampton have three senior positions unfilled.
Southampton have asked Manchester City’s academy director Jason Wilcox to succeed Crocker.
Chief commercial officer David Thomas is also leaving and Southampton are yet to name a replacement for head of recruitment Joe Shields, who is set to join Chelsea after being taken on gardening leave in February.
Sport Republic is in the process of centralizing Southampton’s scouting system, The Athletic can reveal. In effect, players will be scouted for Sport Republic’s multi-club model, as opposed to being recruited specifically for Southampton or his only other club at the moment, Turkish second division side Goztepe.
Tom Stockwell, Southampton’s head of player insight and influence in the recruitment department, has been tasked with moving Southampton’s scouts to Sport Republic.
Ankersen was a decisive voice in the transition, taking club employees from Southampton to work in a wider role within the multi-club structure. This will mean losses for existing staff, who may not have been ready or willing to have their remit at Southampton changed and, in some cases, be marginalised.
In the past year, since the arrival of Sport Republic, several scouts have decided to leave. Dave Carstairs, who was Southampton’s senior scout since 2010, has left to work for Scout company in the Netherlands.
Other scouts are understood to have been unhappy with the direction Southampton’s recruitment process has taken. In short, the way the department wants to operate is in stark contrast to the days of former director of football Ross Wilson, when recruiting was done in a more traditional way. Wilson oversaw a network of scouts who could influence potential targets. There was a decision-making process that made the hierarchy clear – Scouts knew who they answered to and who signed the rubber stamp.
Southampton’s multi-club model is distinctive, mainly because of the uniformity between how each club operates. Sport Republic strives for “harmonization” by connecting each club with each other. This means taking one point of view for everyone. Sport Republic still intends to buy more clubs in Europe and retains an interest in Valenciennes in France. Irish club Shelbourne could also be on his radar.
Ankersen sees recruiting and moving players between multi-club umbrellas as an advantage, giving the side that acquires the better talent — which will likely be Southampton, given that they are the leading club — a better strike rate, thanks to the knowledge Sport Republic’s scouts and coaches have on them .
Critical insight into a player’s ability to improve, mentality and specific traits helps increase the likelihood of a signing being successful. At Brentford, Ankersen worked alongside Phil Giles in a co-director role, encouraging a greater collaborative dynamic in player recruitment.
On the other hand, the more successful a player is according to the Sport Republic model, the more expensive he will be when he is eventually sold to a team outside his multi-club sphere. It is emphasized that Sport Republic does not bring in young players for its own sake – he buys them to sell them for profit, which is why Southampton have been reluctant to buy players over the age of 26.
This was evident in Southampton’s first two January signings. Mislav Orsic, 30, has signed a cheap, low-risk deal worth €6m (£5.3m, $6.5m) but Carlos Alcaraz, who has been the club’s priority midfield target, will undergo a medical on Tuesday in the afternoon for the amount of € Transfer 14m from Racing Club. At 20 years old, Alcaraz is more in line with the club’s youth-oriented policy and Sport Rebulić is therefore ready to justify a higher expenditure.
Bournemouth, also under new ownership, is planning a multi-club structure, led by American businessman Bill Foley. Speaking with Athletic, Foley revealed that Bournemouth’s recruitment process will contrast with their south coast neighbours, treating each of his squads on a case-by-case basis.
Bournemouth are in exclusive talks to buy a minority stake in French club Lorient and have explored an investment in Brazilian side Botafogo.
“It depends on their strength in terms of their football work,” Foley said. “In the case of the Ligue 1 club (Lorient) I buy, they are very strong. They have a great program. But they are willing to consult with us and we will be involved with them. It could be that some club in another country is not that strong in football, so they would have to get more involved. It’s always better to have someone on the ground and in the country where you own the club, than trying to send someone to find out what’s going on.”
The personnel involved in Southampton’s recruitment and player journey have changed. Loan manager Danny Butterfield recently left to take up an assistant coaching position at Lincoln City, while goalkeeper scout and assistant Vince Bartram left after 12-and-a-half years’ service.
Edd Vahid, who was assistant director of Southampton’s academy and was in a relationship with academy director Matt Hale, joined the Premier League at the start of the season. Southampton only recently found his replacement, with Natasha Patel returning after leaving for the New York Red Bulls in 2019. Vicente Portal, the regional lead scout in Spain and Portugal, left for Lisbon’s Sporting in May after working at Southampton for almost 18 months.
It is understandable if there is skepticism about Sport Republic’s centralization process from outside observers and fans. The results on the field will only confirm the transformations off it, even after attempts at reconstruction.
Having spent the first six months of his tenure conducting internal assessments, revamping this table while Southampton’s league position remains so uncertain presents a complex challenge.
But Kraft and Ankersen’s expertise in football and commercial investment may mean they are better equipped to make the necessary changes than other owners. The individual strengths of both are considered to be a good match.
Several sources said The Athletic that Southampton’s survival this season is crucial to the short-term success of Sport Republic’s business model and its staff, and will likely determine how quickly it can implement its multi-club plans.
Relegation would cause an inevitable overhaul of the team that underwent major surgery last summer. The threat of relegation is involved in contract negotiations for some key players, who would prefer to assess the situation at the end of the season.
(Photo: Ankersen, left, Sport Republic co-founder and president Henrik Kraft, right, and former Goztepe president Mehmet Sepil. Photo: Mahmut Serdar Alakus/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)