Watford 1 Blackpool 2 match report: Watford's loan rangers ambushed by Paul Ince's men
Son Tom earns father Paul his first win as Blackpool manager as promotion-chasing Hornets' controversial plan goes awry and Zola rants at referee
Typical. Watford started with only one Udinese player, Cristian Battocchio, and proceeded to play like Watford. Their reversion to type gave Paul Ince his first win as Blackpool manager, and the perfect opportunity to incite a largely inoffensive crowd.
Ince cupped his left ear as the home fans booed him off, paused, and formed his right hand into a fist. He turned to them and pumped the air in a cathartic act which expelled the frustration of two years, waiting to salvage a once-promising managerial career.
"I'm sick and tired of having it rammed down my throat how good Watford are," he said with a vulpine smile. The locals will not take kindly to such implicit criticism of their good fortune, which is usually attributed to envy or xenophobia. Battocchio was Watford's best player, and scored their only goal with a delicate dinked finish, but Gianfranco Zola was left ranting at the perceived incompetence of the referee, Andrew Madley. Since the Italian is a thoroughly decent sort, he apologised for his extended whinge that they should have had a minimum of two penalties.
Watford remain second in the Championship, five points behind leaders Cardiff, with nine games to play. Promotion to the Premier League would be a uniquely profitable achievement for a humble, slightly shop-soiled football club.
It would also justify the controversial yet undeniably effective business plan of an absentee owner who understands the power of market economics. Failure, in the form of bottom place in the Premier League, will be worth in excess of £60 million next season.
Giampaolo Pozzo has fostered a football phenomenon since buying Udinese, Watford's parent club, in 1986 following a betting scandal which resulted in relegation to Serie B. He invests £3m annually in a global system in which 50 scouts seek unheralded talent in Africa, South and Central America, and scour such European backwaters as Switzerland and Slovenia.
Udinese have made £85m profit in the transfer market in the past year, and have earned in the region of £220m over the last decade. In that context, purchasing Watford for £15m last summer, in a deal similar to the one which elevated Granada to La Liga, is a small, calculated gamble.
Watford have exploited a glaring loophole in the rules which differentiate between domestic and foreign loanees. By the time it is closed by the Football League this summer, an unfair system, weighted in Watford's favour, may well have done its worst. They will surely not perform this poorly again.
Matthew Briggs, summoned from no further south than Fulham, became their 15th loan player to make his debut this season, on the left side of a defensive three. He should have scored on the hour, somehow missing a free header from no more than four yards, but will be useful ballast in the run-in.
The significance of that lapse became apparent in the final 15 minutes, when Tom Ince converted Stephen Crainey's near-post cross, and delivered the 88th-minute corner which Gary MacKenzie somehow scrambled over the line.
Watford's defeat will be popular, because culture change has diminished the respect they once generated as a progressive, family-oriented community club. Ian Holloway, the Crystal Palace manager, has been the most vocal critic of what he calls a "ludicrous" advantage, but football is a notoriously expedient business.
Blackpool's solitary season in the Premier League might have been good news for owner Owen Oyston, who received £23.5m individually and through a network of his companies. But Bloomfield Road still has the worst pitch in the Football League, and training facilities which would shame a non-League club.
Though Watford were poor, especially in the second half, the influx of so many loan players affords them the luxury of being able to rotate carefully and consistently. Five foreign loanees, including 20-goal Czech international striker Matej Vydra, began on the bench yesterday.
They were only joined by Sean Murray when Almen Abdi was injured in the warm-up. He remained unused, a powerful symbol of what happens when a club marginalise homegrown talent. Murray was a pivotal young player last season, courted by Manchester City and the scion of a promising generation. His greatest presence is in the window of the club shop, where he is photographed modelling the away kit. He has started only one match this season. The sums Watford will make from promotion make the deliberate downgrading of their academy, to save £1.5m, an act of wanton vandalism.
The future has been usurped by the likes of Battocchio. Born in Rosario, a hotbed of Argentinian football, he was signed by Udinese from Newell's Old Boys for ¤120,000 at the age of 16. He played five first-team games before being given to Watford, where he has established himself as an intelligent, deep-lying playmaker.
The Championship is the perfect shop window for a player whose breadth of vision and quality of technique give him time and room in which to play. Watford will doubtless get around the rules, again, by legitimising their loanees as free transfers, as they have done with the Argentinian striker Fernando Forestieri. If no one likes them, they won't care.
Watford (3-5-2): Bond; Doyley, Nosworthy, Briggs; Anya (Geijo, 85), Yeates, Battocchio, Hogg, Pudil (Ekstrand, 79); Forestieri (Vydra, 69), Deeney.
Blackpool (4-4-2): Gilks; Baptiste, Broadfoot, MacKenzie, Crainey; Eardley (Sylvestre, 46), Ferguson, Angel (Futacs, 86); Phillips; Derbyshire (Delfounesco, 67), Ince.
Referee Andrew Madley.
Keeping it in the family
The Pozzo collection of clubs
Udinese Serie A (bought in 1986)
Granada La Liga (bought in 2009)
Watford Championship (bought in 2012)
Watford loanees from Pozzo's clubs this season
Almen Abdi (Udinese)
Ikechi Anya (Granada)
Cristian Battocchio (Udinese)
Steve Leo Beleck (Udinese, has since joined Stevenage on loan)
Marco Cassetti (Udinese)
Joel Ekstrand (Udinese)
Jean-Alain Fanchone (Udinese, has since joined Nîmes on loan)
Fernando Forestieri (Udinese, made move permanent in January)
Alexandre Geijo (Udinese)
Daniel Pudil (Granada)
Matej Vydra (Udinese)
Along with the seven currently still on loan at Watford, Udinese have loaned five players to Granada this season.
Other Watford loanees this season
Matthew Briggs (Fulham), Nathaniel Chalobah (Chelsea), Geoffrey Mujangi Bia (Standard Liège).
Under the current Football League rules, Championship clubs are able to loan no more than four domestic players in a single season, but there is no limit on overseas loans.
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