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The take-over of an English football club by the owner of an Italian club passed somewhat quietly on account of the European Championships but, as Paul Grech, writes Watfords tie-in with Udinese owner Giampaolo Pozzo might just end up having a significance that reaches some way beyond Vicarage Road.
As the two nations’ teams faced each other in one of the lesser balanced games of Euro 2012’s quarter final line up, another piece of business involving English and Italian football went by practically unnoticed. By buying a majority stake in Watford, Italian Giampaolo Pozzo became the latest foreign owner of an English club and, in that respect, this piece of news merited the lack of attention that it received. What makes it remarkable is that Pozzo is also the owner of Serie A side Udinese.
Pozzo’s achievements in Udine have been nothing short of remarkable. A team that was constantly yo-yoing between Serie A and B was transformed into one of the more stable sides at the top of Italian football; one capable of two consecutive Champions League qualification slots despite spending a fraction of what is available to the country’s traditional giants. This has been achieved through one of the finest scouting networks allied with a scatter-gun approach of signing promising players irrespective of their nationality (but as long as they don’t cost too much). It is a strategy that has paid huge rewards not only in the form of positive league results but also through a bank balance that has been significantly inflated through the sales of the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Christian Zapata, Mauricio Isla and Kwadwo Asamoah. And that’s taking only the past two seasons.
Even better, these results have been achieved by employing coaches who preach attractive, attacking football. Not because of some ideological belief but rather because this style of football is more likely to bring to the fore attacking talent which, in turn, normally attracts the highest transfer fees. This success at Udinese has seen Pozzo exporting his model. Three years ago, financially crippled Spanish side Granada – then in the equivalent of the third division – entered into an agreement with Udinese through which they were loaned a number of players contracted to the Italian side. At the end of that season they were promoted and two seasons later repeated the feat to return to the Spanish top flight for the first time in 35 years, a position they managed to retain thanks once again to the players received from Udinese.
All of this might sound alluring for Watford fans, especially given their recent money problems. And it is, just as long as they accept a few basic facts. Like, for instance, not getting attached to players because those who do well are likely to be moved on. Or to avoid the illusion that the club is looking for any success other than that which sees the key players get playing time and experience. This is not to say that the deal will be bad for Watford, whose fans will probably point out that their best players were already getting sold and their ambitions were already minimal given their problems. Yet there should be no illusion about the fact that fans’ expectations might be different from the owners’. In the short term, it probably won’t matter that much. In the longer term, any lack of ambition might be viewed differently.
Even so, it is difficult to really read this move by Pozzo. Links with a Spanish club are understandable, given the linguistic and cultural similarities that there are with Italy. A player who does well there is likely to do so in Italy as well. England is a whole different matter. Then there’s also the markets that Udinese’s scouts are most proficient in: South American, Africa and Eastern Europe. All huge producers of talent but, crucially, all destinations from which players are likely to need work permits. Unless these players come equipped with EU passports, it is unlikely they’ll be playing at Vicarage Road for long. Which either means that there will be a change of strategy where the focus will shift to players from other nations or else that there is another reason behind this move. And that other reason is likely to be money. Pozzo’s experience has taught him that it is possible to build a team cheaply and progress. If he’s done it in Italy and he’s done it in Spain then for him there’s no reason why he shouldn’t be able to do it in England as well. With the added incentive of the huge TV money that is available if he makes it to the Premier League.
If he can achieve this with a slight increase to Udinese’s budget, then it would probably be more lucrative than trying to get to the Champions League with his home club. All this has serious implications for English football at large. Traditionally there has been huge resistance against the suggestion of clubs in the top leagues registering a reserve side in the professional league structure. Yet, effectively, this is what Watford have become with the only difference being that the parent club is from another country. Does this deal – and its acceptance – leave any moral reason why big clubs can’t take over smaller one and set up a similar model?
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Ian began writing Twohundredpercent in May 2006. He lives in Brighton. He has also written for, amongst others, Pitch Invasion, FC Business Magazine, The Score, When Saturday Comes, Stand Against Modern Football and The Football Supporter. Ian was the first winner of the Socrates Award For Not Being Dead Yet at the 2010 NOPA awards for football bloggers.
A more balanced view than some, but seeing that the sale was concluded by an administrator,it would suggest that the club had little option or indeed face extinction. Your point about work permits already negates the option of the club taking unknown players. The clubs debt in comparison to other clubs in the league is not as bad. Time will tell if we lose our identity, we may not have a large support, but we do have passionate support and if things do get worse, then you can be assured that the owners will know, just ask Jack Petchy a former owner!
I rub my dick on my watford shirt. The players turn me on aswell.
An interesting discussion piece Paul. Another point of view is that the Pozzo family realise the biggest opportunity in football is in England due to the TV money available in the Premier League. Therefore, they have bought a well-established Championship club, with one of the finest academy set-ups in England, on the outskirts of London, for a knockdown price. By supporting the club and getting it into the Premier League, arguably it is a more lucrative proposition than Udinese, even if Udinese get in the Champions League. So you could make a case that Watford become the core focus and Granada and Udinese are “feeders”. Who knows?
As a Watford fan, we are used to seeing players stay for 1-2 seasons and then leave. In recent years, we have had Danny Graham, Marvin Sordell, Mike Williamson, Jobi McAnuff, Lee Williamson, Marlon King, Tommy Smith etc. all do it. I guess the difference is that they were mainly English players, whereas this time it could players from all other the world. Im sure if it starts impacting our progress then the natives will start to revolt but at the moment, after the flirtation with administration both before and at the end of the Bassini regime we are prepared to give anything a go….Forza Watford.
dont care, at least we will still be in business, and if he wants to stay in the PL then decent players will have to be replaced with other decent players
I’m sure that the Pozzo’s will have factored in the additional constraints such as the need for work permits before embarking on what must be a very major investment.
As you say, Watford has always been a selling club, based on an Academy model that is the envy of many larger clubs. That was one of the attractions for the Pozzo’s. The prospect of working under world-class coaches can only enhance Watford’s chances of attracting the best talent in competition with the likes of Arsenal, Chelsea etc.
However, it’s not only players that can appreciate in value. If Watford does become an established Premiership Club, with a fully developed stadium, it will become a prize asset in its own right.
So my OAP early-bird season ticket could turn out to be the bargain of the century. I just hope that the Pozzo’s don’t try to milk the supporters next season, as the owners of some of the more established Premiership clubs do.
Who is to say that Udinese aren’t about to become a feeder club for Watford if and when we are established in the Premier League?
PS. …and when the new stadium can’t accommodate everyone, we can always move to Wembley!
@HBkid – anyone with a semblence of a grasp of reality would say that isn’t going to happen.
Some fantastically deluded comments already. Perhaps Pozzo’s main reason for choosing Watford was that he knew the majority of supporters were so supine that they’d put up absolutely no resistence whatsoever.
If this ‘project’ works watford could finally win a trophy.
Crowd Spotter – I am sure some fans will have their concerns but then what option was there…
Bassini diud an ok job but had no money to keep the club going and we have sold/brought players many times over the years so the Pozzo way of running a club is nothing new.
I can’t believe just how spineless Watford supporters are being. Is there any other club where this would have been not only allowed to happen but actively welcomed? If losing your club’s identity is the price to pay for saving the club at its current status then I don’t see it’s a price worth paying. But no talks of protest, boycotts, an alternative supporter-run club – frankly if and when it goes wrong, the supporters will get what they deserve.
But then there’s always Fat Reg to bail them out isn’t there?
I’m disgusted with how happy and smug watford fans are about this take over and how little they seem to care that the identity of their club may be lost forever. Mind you they’ve always relied on Rich Sugar Daddies to bail them out of their troubles so it’s no real surprise they’re enamoured with anyone who shows up with a fat wallet!
You have to feel for Sean Dyche, a popular and gifted young manager sacked for no good reason, and the watford faithful are so caught up in the hype they don’t seem at all bothered.
[…] us much in the past. Yes, lot’s of people are getting it wrong about Watford, but imagine if the Pozzo family had rocked up elsewhere. Let’s suppose they’d acquired Charlton, and were packing their squad […]
[…] were asked. Did this deal – and its acceptance – leave any reason why big English clubs couldn’t take over a smaller one and set up a similar model? What would the implications be for Watford’s excellent academy? Had the club now lost its soul […]