FC Stumbras: Tollbooth to Europe?

An excellent piece by the New York Times details the setup at FC Stumbras Kaunas, a Lithuanian club intently focused on being a transfer waystation to the clubs of Europe. It is a rare glimpse into the for-profit soccer industry and the costs, for both players and owners, involved in chasing part of the transfer market payday.

The story follows Ibrahima Sory Soumah, a player tapped by AS Monaco but who finds himself at Stumbras instead because of visa issues:

[Soumah], signed to a contract that pays him a minimum-wage salary of $470 a month but, bizarrely, includes a multimillion-dollar buyout, he was sharing a bedroom with a teammate in a house owned by F.C. Stumbras,

Similar stories abound throughout the squad, with many players arriving in the past two years hoping to make the step up to a larger club.

Stumbras has been co-owned by Irish financier Richard Walsh and Portuguese coach Mariano Barreto since 2016 with the strategy of using Lithuania’s EU membership as an gateway for free agents to enter the European market. So far the strategy has yielded no high profile transfer coups and met with resistance from players and agents who claim the contracts are unenforceable. Walsh himself has expressed frustration about working with the industry:

“I can’t say I have found more difficult people than people in the football industry,” he said. “I find them anything but truthful and straightforward.”

It is unclear if an experiment like Stumbras can succeed, particularly with an adversarial stance towards agents who hold serious power in the soccer ecosystem.

Full article: New York Times

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FC Stumbras: Tollbooth to Europe?