Europa League: Liverpool welcome Udinese, masters of talent production

New owners of Watford have flourished with Serie A club that profits from developing stars

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 appears coldly level headed. He did once fire Roy Hodgson for the crime of giving an interview to the Daily Mail in which he described Udinese as "a strange club". However, 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 men change television channels.

Pozzo made his money in the unglamorous world of manufacturing power tools and his approach to running a football club is pragmatic. Udinese will 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.

It is a model that has ensured a city with a population substantially less than that of Hastings has in its last two seasons matched Turin, Rome and Milan as a football centre. 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.

It is, however, a system with inherent dangers. If the best talent is sold and, if like Inler, Isla and Asamoah they are sold to rivals like Napoli and Juventus, then they have to be replaced. The drain of talent from the Stadio Friuli might account for Udinese's stuttering start to the new season that sees them 15th in Serie A with a single victory – albeit against Milan – from their opening six fixtures.

 

Get Adobe Flash player

 

And in one significant respect Udinese have not cashed in. Twice Antonio di Natale has won the title of capocannoniere – Serie A's leading goalscorer – and three times the side he captains has qualified for the Champions League. But only once have they made it to the competition proper and then, in 2005, they seldom threatened to get out of their group.

Last year, they were eliminated by Arsenal in the qualifiers and in August, at the same stage, they were knocked out by Braga on penalties. The fatal kick was taken by their Brazilian midfielder, Maicosuel, who attempted the kind of delicate "Panenka2 chip with which Andrea Pirlo had deceived Joe Hart in the shoot-out at Euro 2012. Instead, Braga's keeper, Beto, simply stood his ground and watched the ball float into his hands.

Di Natale will be 35 later this month and for the man who could claim to be Udinese's greatest player, the finish line is standing squarely on the horizon. "Even just looking around the stadium makes you feel special; I will probably never be here again," he said before training at Anfield last night. It is the kind of emotion expressed by those at the very beginning and at the very end of their careers.

Barnes: let sterling grow up slowly the way rush did

When John Barnes joined Liverpool in 1987 he was under pressure. It was not just the £900,000 fee, big money then, but the fact he was the first notable black player at either Merseyside club. He was, however, an England international, and he was 23.

Raheem Sterling is playing in a very different era: black players are accepted and racist abuse stamped on, but Barnes sympathises with the pressure his fellow Jamacian-born winger will be under if he plays tonight. "He's got great potential," said Barnes, who was in the last Liverpool team to win the title, "but he has only had five games. I would not want to put him under pressure to rescue Liverpool. The experienced players should shoulder the burden. Raheem is 17. He should enjoy his football. I would urge the fans to leave him alone and let him play. He is dealing with the expectation and I am worried about the fans putting him under more pressure and then, if he goes through three games not performing, getting on his back."

Liverpool won 5-2 at Norwich last weekend but are in the bottom half of the table after Brendan Rodgers took over in the summer.

"It is hard to find your way under a microscope and particularly hard in a team that is not winning many games or playing well. You don't ask a 17-year-old to rescue that situation," said Barnes.

"I had played 30 times for England before I came to Liverpool. I was 23. Even Ian Rush was at Liverpool for a year before he got into the first team. When he did get in he had experienced players around him playing well. If Rushie as a 19-year-old from Chester had been put in the first team and told to rescue Liverpool, it would have been difficult."

Sterling, who received his first call-up for Stuart Pearce's England Under-21s yesterday, has been linked with the senior squad for next week's World Cup qualifiers but Barnes is wary. "You have seen the same expectancy when Theo Walcott went to the World Cup. It probably hurt him for the best part of two years. I don't want the same to happen to Raheem Sterling."

Barnes added: "My advice would be the same as Graham Taylor told me at Watford: 'Don't believe the hype'. He told me when they write good things and you believe them, you have to believe them too when they write bad things. You cannot pick and choose."

Glenn Moore

Probable teams

Liverpool (4-2-3-1) Reina; Wisdom, Carragher, Coates, Johnson; Gerrard, Henderson; Sterling, Shelvey, Downing; Borini.

Udinese (3-5-2) Brkic; Danao, Domizzi, Benatia; Faranoni, Pinzi, Fabbrini, Willians, Asmero; Di Natale, Pereyra.

Referee S Johannesson (Swe).

TV ITV4 8.05pm kick-off.

Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth GamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Karen Dunbar performs
Entertainers showcase local wit, talent and irrepressible spirit
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Caption competition
Caption competition

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game