Liverpool play host to Udinese, masters of talent production


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The Independent Online

Those who spend their Saturdays at Vicarage Road might want to turn on their television at a few minutes past eight tonight. It will be a chance to see their first team in action.

When Watford appeared to become a wholly-owned subsidiary of Udinese in the summer, the outcry was predictably fierce, not least since a good, young manager in Sean Dyche appeared to have been sacked for the crime of being insufficiently famous. His replacement was rather better known: Gianfranco Zola.

It would be easy to paint Udinese and their 71-year-old chairman, Giampaolo Pozzo, as one of the predators of European football, interested only in using Watford and his other club, Granada, as a proving ground for what is, admittedly, one of the finest academies in Italian football.

However, compared to some of Serie A's chairmen, Pozzo, below, appears coldly level headed. He once fired Roy Hodgson for the crime of giving an interview in which he described Udinese as "a strange club". But Unlike Napoli's Aurelio de Laurentiis, he does not give a press conference after every home game. And, unlike Palermo's Maurizio Zamparini, he does not change managers like some change TV channels.

Pozzo made his money in manufacturing power tools and his approach to running a football club is pragmatic. Udinese produce young footballers as cheaply as possible, either through youth development or through a rigorous scouting network. Then, they will sell them for a substantial profit. Unless they are Antonio Di Natale, their 34-year-old striker.

It is a model that has ensured a city with a population less than that of Hastings has in its last two seasons matched the might of Turin, Rome and Milan. Alexis Sanchez, Gökhan Inler, Cristian Zapata, Mauricio Isla and Kwadwo Asamoah were five players who ensured Udinese qualified for successive Champions Leagues. They cost the club £5.28m in transfer fees and they were sold for £71.51m.