Monday, September 1 st, 2014
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Reproducing the Udinese model in UK: bright future for Watford?
The Championship club was in dire straits when the Pozzo family took over. They revolutionized the club, bringing in youth players form Italy and Spain, as the fans are backing up the project
by Jamie Wilkins
After a recent chain of events that have unravelled over the past few weeks, 57-year old Italian entrepreneur Massimo Cellino has finally been accepted as the man to take over Yorkshire club Leeds United, currently residing in the English Sky Bet Championship. He was initially rejected by the Football League, following the failure of the Football League’s owners’ and directors’ test – but in the last few days the decision has been overturned, allowing him to step into the club as chairman.

Another Italian who’s recently acquired a Championship club (though not as recently as Cellino) is one Giampaolo Pozzo. He and his ‘empire’, which also contains Italian club Udinese Calcio and Spanish club Granada, took over at Vicarage Road in June 2012 and has had a massive impact on the club, especially so considering the waves of transfers and loan signings the club has completed since the ‘Italian job’ was first embarked upon. The project started by him, in an attempt to get Watford back to top-flight English football, nearly came to fruition at the first instance. Watford narrowly missed out on promotion from the Sky Bet Championship last season – unfortunately losing out to Crystal Palace in a scrappy Play-Off Final.

The new wave of foreigner signings and big investments and developments has come much to the delight of the Watford support. One member of the forum ‘The Football Ramble’, going by the name of JP_Spur, said that the Pozzos’ impact on the club has been “absolutely positive” and that “regardless of dips in form or being the target of criticism for the player arrangements with Udinese and Granada the ‘condition’ of the club as a whole is stable. Who thought ‘stability’ could be so satisfying?”

Another Watford fan on the same forum, ‘TSPSH’ (shortened to spare the vulgarity of his actual name), offered his own opinion on the matter: “I feel like I’m not completely sure what to expect from the Pozzos, but it’s nice to see them keeping Watford in better health than the club has been for a long time – at the very least.” Once again, a positive review for the Italians.

When you cast a sharp eye over the recent transfer dealings of the club, loanees and fresh-faced youths aplenty, it is clear to see that the Pozzo Empire is one for the long-term future. This can easily be backed up by looking at what they have done already at Udinese in the 90s and 00s and Granada, of a more recent time period.

Udinese (as discussed in a previous article on the site) have an incredibly rich and diverse scouting system and a fantastic business model that has been proven over the years, being effective in terms of finance, but also in keeping the club competitive. This model has also blossomed at Granada, who were languishing in the lower leagues of the Spanish pyramid, before Pozzo spotted an opportunity.

In July 2009, with the club on the financial brink, Pozzo swooped in and grasped the chance at taking Granada back to the top flight, where they had not been for 35 years, at the time of promotion in the 2010/11 season. He loaned in a bucket load of Udinese players in their rise back to the Primera Division, which kept the project economical and allowed his longer-term investment Udinese, to benefit from the experience said loaned players gained.

So far, the changes to the Watford squad and the club on the whole have been made with the future in mind. Youth team and reserve team players such as Tommie Hoban, Sean Murray and Johnathon Bond have been shuffled into the pack along with the waves of Italian players coming over from Serie A – among them were Diego Fabbrini, Marco Davide Faraoni, Gabriele Angella and Fernando Forestieri.

Along with the blend of English, Irish and Italian youth that has been folded into the squad since the Pozzo takeover, one other big change has been the tactics employed – most notably by (surprise surprise) Italian manager Gianfranco Zola (now replaced by Giuseppe Sannino). The more defensive side of the English game is very prominent in the 3-5-2 in which the team is often laid out.

The three centre-backs are flanked by two wing-backs – something very rare in the English game – and the midfielders have a burst of energy and sharpness to them, allowing the team to absorb other team’s attacking impact and strike quickly and efficiently on the counter. This was very well showcased in the Play-Off semi-finals last season against Leicester – Troy Deeney providing a late, dramatic winner for the Hornets in a game now etched into the minds of this new breed of hungry players.

In terms of what we can expect for Watford in the future, the outlook is very bright in general. The masses of youth prospects included in this squad due to this new regime give the team acres to grow into and have an economic mastermind at the very top of their management. Although their tactics and style they set out to play in are unorthodox, they do work. If and when promotion comes – a pretty likely outcome in the next few years, based on what Granada and Udinese have achieved under Pozzo – they may need to shuffle some players around, as 3-5-2 has seldom come to fruition in the top flight (Man City employed it at times in 2012/13 and it was never an effective change) and the wing-backs may become isolated, given that almost all teams have two wide players on each flank.

With that being said, the fans at Vicarage Road have a very promising couple of years ahead of them. The Udinese youth/scouting policy slowly being phased in has a brilliant track record so far, so the Hornets are likely strong runners in the race for promotion these next few seasons. And the once dormant East Stand is currently in the process of being demolished and rebuilt, in order to reviltalise the crowd and offer even more support to the new waves of youth and Italian flair, which wil surely bring the Golden Boys back up to the top flight in the years to come.

Wednesday, April 16 th, 2014
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