Pozzos' connections open new doors for Watford
Experienced new Italian owners will tap scouting network to bring loan talent to Vicarage Road
When a new owner from overseas takes over an English club, the default optimism of the football fan tends to mean excitement just about outweighs trepidation. Yet the Italian takeover at Watford could be a real step into the unknown for English football.
The Pozzo family have arrived in Hertfordshire and we can be sure of one thing – they have a plan. Patriarch Giampaolo has owned Udinese for more than 25 years, and knows exactly how he wants to do things. Hence the abrupt sacking of manager Sean Dyche last week, despite last season's creditable mid-table finish.
While the new head coach, Gianfranco Zola, is the club's second Italian in charge after Gianluca Vialli, more of the lavish spending that took place under his former Chelsea team-mate 11 years ago – and left them in dire straits – is highly unlikely. In their first message directly to Watford supporters since taking over, the family said their "vision of how we should be involved in professional football is to provide financial and technical support, so that success can be achieved over the long term".
A clear structure is in place already, with former West Ham chief executive Scott Duxbury and sporting director Gianluca Nani on board, having persuaded the Pozzos to invest. Their involvement led to the recruitment of Zola, whom they are familiar with from their time at Upton Park.
The Pozzo recipe for success is well defined, and set more at the Moneyball than the Abu Dhabi end of the market. At their flagship, Udinese, the results are impressive. Last summer saw star trio Alexis Sanchez, Gökhan Inler and Cristian Zapata sold on for a combined £38m, yet the club went on to finish in Serie A's Champions League spots for the second successive year. A sophisticated international scouting network enables them to buy low and sell high.
Nani is on message, having an enviable record of his own overseeing effective scouting from his years at Brescia, where he signed talents as diverse as Luca Toni and Marek Hamsik. It remains to be seen if he can be as versatile an influence as the Pozzos' representative at Granada, Quique Pina, has been at their other overseas interest.
A former lower league player, 43-year-old Pina became an agent after retiring. After creating his own club, Ciudad de Murcia, in 1999 to showcase players and stimulate business, he sold up in 2007. Pina became Udinese's representative in the Spanish-speaking world, brokering a £400,000 deal for Chilean defender Mauricio Isla, whom the Pozzos sold to Juventus last week for an estimated £7.7m.
In 2009, after becoming friends with Giampaolo's son Gino (also an agent), Pina persuaded the Pozzos to invest in ailing third-tier Granada. The family subsequently installed him as president. A raft of young Udinese players were loaned to the Andalusian club, and successive promotions followed. Last season, Granada were in the top flight for the first time since 1976.
The Pozzo mission statement does say: "Maintaining Watford's identity is key to having long-term success." Yet the admission that the "club will be run along the tried and tested model of Udinese and Granada" is made. So we can probably count on only a semi-permanent cast of players.
When this correspondent visited Granada in January, 10 of the squad for the match against Rayo Vallecano were loan players, including seven from Udinese. The Pozzos and Pina have excellent relationships with several other clubs, including the Portuguese giants Benfica, who lent them three players last season. Further down the scale, the chain continues. Pina is also a major shareholder at third-tier Cadiz, and has appointed his father, Juan Jose, as president. Cadiz took nine Granada players on loan last term.
We can, then, expect movement in both directions from Watford. With promotion from the Championship the first priority, any potential conflicts of interest appear to be some way off at the moment. For now, supporters can look forward to a good augmentation of playing resources with very little capital risk on the club's part.
It seems an opportune moment for such an experiment. The consequences of the vote to accept the Elite Player Performance Plan (EPPP) for developing young players last October threatens to change the financial landscape for Football League clubs. It is likely many more teams will end up topping up with loans than before. With a potential source of revenue in player sales looking likely to be curtailed, further budgetary rethinks will be required.
This situation is unlikely to have escaped the notice of the Pozzo family. They have snared a foothold in the English game with a business plan better than most. The future at Watford is unlikely to be dull.
I'm back to set the record straight – Zola
Gianfranco Zola admits he has a point to prove on his return to English football as Watford manager after a two-year exile.
The 1997 PFA Player of the Year has watched fellow Italians Roberto Mancini and Roberto Di Matteo win the Premier League and Champions League trophies respectively – in stark contrast to Zola's first stint in management, where his struggling West Ham reign was disrupted by criticism from co-owners David Gold and David Sullivan before his dismissal in 2010.
Following his appointment in the wake of the Pozzo takeover, Zola said: "It's a big credit to the Italian managers. Now I'm under pressure. Joining them in the Premier League is one of the targets. But our situation is different as this is a long-term project.
"If I didn't think I had anything to prove I wouldn't be here."
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