Watford Fans Can Feel Pozzo-tive About Italian Investment

The prospect of Italian ownership of Watford has been met with some scepticism, but under the same management, Udinese and Granada are thriving. Here's why Watford may too.
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The prospect of Italian ownership of Watford has been met with some scepticism, but under the same management, Udinese and Granada are thriving. Here's why Watford may too.

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The news that Watford are about to come under the control of Italian owners can either be greeted as “oh, no, here come the match fixers” or, in a more sober light, an organisation with experience of turning a small-sized club into a success.

The Pozzos, after all, own Udinese, and of late Granada, who are for differing reasons are coming off positive seasons.

While Granada avoided relegation from La Liga on the last day, Udinese finished their campaign in a Champions League spot for the second consecutive year, with a third-place finish; holding off the likes of Napoli, Lazio and Inter – and this with Serie A shorn of a place in the competition.

Pozzo allowed the renewed Udinese scouting system to continue to unearth gems from leagues all around the world.

The season previously the side from Fruili claimed fourth spot so their progress has been upwards, especially when they’re considered a selling club.

The spine of a team that had lit up the league with the free-flowing football was removed last summer: central defender Christian Zapata left for Villarreal, central midfielder Gokhan Inler switched to Napoli, while Alexis Sanchez made the big-money move to Barcelona.

Club owner Gianpaolo Pozzo, who generated his immense wealth in the less glamorous world of the manufacture of power tool accessories, turned a tidy profit on all three players who had originally cost next to nothing: Sanchez alone could end up bringing in €33million, while Inler’s fee was closer to €15m.

The academy is of course one of the most impressive in the Italian set-up and Watford should expect to be handed a number of promising youngsters and fringe players.

The transfers ensured Udinese remained in the black and, never one to plough money into bringing in expensive signings, Pozzo allowed the renewed scouting system to continue to unearth gems from leagues all around the world, but especially Central and South America.

In the meantime the next generation of talent continued where the last had left off – and now Mauricio Isla and Kwadwo Asamoah are set to join Juventus where once again the club’s bank account will be replenished.

The good citizens of this unfashionable north-eastern city and those of the Friuli-Venezia Giulia region in general are not a demonstrative bunch – Fabio Capello and Dino Zoff both hail from the area – and Pozzo, who is now 71, has moved through the corridors of the Italian football system since the mid-eighties remained guarded having been left battered and bruised on a few occasions.

Granada had five Udinese-owned players in their squad last season and the player hailed as the “Messi of Romania”, Gabriel Torje, will make the switch this year.

There is one thing that Pozzo understands and that is that Udinese can never tilt at the title, but they can still give the big boys a run for the money, as they have demonstrated in recent seasons.

With scouts worldwide, the academy is of course one of the most impressive in the Italian set-up and while Watford should expect to be handed a number of promising youngsters and fringe players, the real gems will remain in Italy to be fast-tracked into the first-team squad.

Gianfranco Zola has been approached to fill the manager’s role, further strengthening the Anglo-Italian link – which can only be seen as a positive in terms of playing style.

For those who do not make the grade in Serie A then Watford could still find themselves with a number of talented performers: Granada had five Udinese-owned players in their squad last season and the player hailed as the “Messi of Romania”, Gabriel Torje, will make the switch this year having failed to really impress in his first season in the Italian game.

In reality, players moving in the opposite direction would probably be few and far between but no doubt facility would be made for Watford youngsters to gain valuable experience training in Italy or at least playing at the highly-developed youth level which takes players up to 20-years-old.

What the Championship side will gain is financial stability; with reports in the Italian press suggesting that up to €20 million will be invested in the Hornets, with Pozzo’s son Gino in control, backed by sporting director Gianluca Nani, who will be the bridge between the two clubs in terms of bringing in new players.

Ground improvements will come hand in hand with on-field success but the new owners will have done due diligence on the prime geographical position Watford holds in relation to London.

Gianfranco Zola has been approached to fill the manager’s role, further strengthening the Anglo-Italian link – which can only be seen as a positive in terms of playing style. Udinese have become known as “Little Barcelona” in the way they move the ball around quickly and for the number of goals they have scored inside the opposition penalty area.

While the main focus for Pozzo will always be Udinese, Watford can look to the relative success of Granada who had been out of Spain’s top flight for 35 years before Italian investment - and with promotion came the redevelopment of their Estadio Nuevo Los Càrmenes stadium which saw the capacity increased by 8,000.

Ground improvements will come hand in hand with on-field success but the new owners will have done due diligence on the prime geographical position Watford holds in relation to London. Still, that is a by-product of the big picture which is to expand the football side of the business away from Italy where Udinese know their place in the pecking order.

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