At the dawn of the second season of Watford with the Pozzo family to the ownership, I think it’s appropriate to make a point on the situation and try to illustrate how the network of teams that the Italian entrepreneurs are building around Europe works. Their project giving is arousing on the one hand controversy, on the other hand great enthusiasm.
Giampaolo Pozzo was born as an entrepreneur in the wood and metalworking industry. In 1986 he bought the football team of Udinese and brought in Friuli two world champions, Fulvio Collovati and Francesco Graziani, besides the Argentinian Daniel Bertoni; but the nine-point penalty for match-fixing scandal of the previous season condemned the club to relegation.
Years of seesaw between Seria A and Serie B, until the promotion in 1994-95: from then on, stated the exponential growth of the Bianconeri, with eight qualifications reached in Uefa Cup and two in Champions League. In the last three seasons Udinese collected a fourth, a third and a fifth place in Serie A.
They are now firmly in the elite of Italian football, getting ahead, from time to time, teams like AC Milan, Inter, Roma and Juventus. This result has been achieved in spite of the club’s policy to sell each year the brightest talents discovered and valued by the team, as Alexis Sanchez sold to Barcelona for € 37.5 million.
The secret of the Udinese’s continuous success? Soon said: a network of scouts around the world who bring every year dozens of young talents in Friuli. These players have the opportunity to grow up in Italy, in a peaceful location that does not ask them immediately for results, with the hysteria typical of the big teams. Udinese can afford, because of this, the luxury of missing purchases, of buying many young talents, of abrading. All of this in order to bring out from each brood two or three future international players.
Pozzo changes his game in 2009. The family business are concentrated mainly in Spain, at Barcelona: the president of Udinese tries to take over Espanyol, the second team of the Catalan capital city, but he can’t. He changes direction, as well, to Granada, driven by his collaborator and former football player Quique Pina: he buys the majority of the Andalusian team in the Spanish Third Division and uses it as a training to test the talents he buys around the world in a league more competitive than Primavera (Under 21 Italian championship).
The Italian businessman buys some players from the lower leagues in Spain and takes some other directly from Udine: in 2009-10 10 players of Granada are branded Udinese. The result? Immediate promotion to the Spanish Second Division. And the following year, with 12 players sent to Andalusia, the team regains the La Liga for the first time after 35 years. Among the stars of that team there is a certain Luis Fernando Muriel, today a target of Liverpool.
Since, as we say in Italy, the appetite comes with eating, in the wake of the successes reached in Spain, understanding that the new model works, Pozzo buys Watford in the summer of 2012. The Hornets are in Championship.
He sends again 11 players from Udine to England: under the steering of an Italian coach who knows very well English football, mister Gianfranco Zola, they arrive to play the playoff Final for the Premier League against Crystal Palace. Watford lose the match, but the project goes on: indeed, the purposes of Pozzo, as evident from the transfer market session in progress, are to strengthen even more the team to point to the direct promotion. The Premier League would mean a sea of money.
But, in addition to successes, comes the controversy. Someone in England tells about unfair competition, because of the big availability of loans for Watford taken from the enormous reservoir of Udinese and Granada, while local teams, who don’t have satellite teams abroad, can take only two loans in England.
So, the Football League decided to draw a line at the number of loans, five players per team. This has not proved an obstacle to Pozzo, who has done nothing that make players signing for definitive transfer to Watford. Purchases, to all intents and purposes.
To this day, the assets of players controlled by the Pozzo’s network is huge. Udinese have registered 34 players, with an estimated market value (source Transfermark) of 104 million euros, Watford 26 players with 27 million euros, Granada 34 players with 58 million euros. The Italian ownership, therefore, has 94 players under contract for a total value of 189 million. The potential of the phenomenon is enormous.
So far so good: Udinese locates players around the world and sends them to Spain and England to play in high level championships, also hoping to find emergent talents from Watford and Granada to do the reverse path. But what will happen the day that Udinese, Watford or Granada will qualify together for the European Cups? The ENIC case of the early 2000s, with the multinational that owned a lot of teams in all Europe, like Vicenza, AEK Athens and Tottenham, has led to a European regulation: you can’t enter the same European competition two teams of the same owner.
However Pozzo goes on to weave his huge canvas. It’s just started a sports cooperation (for now) with the Hercules of Alicante in Spain and there is talk of a strong concern for FC Koper in Slovenia. A network that wants to grow. To get to win: with Udinese, Watford or Granada?
Emanuele Giulianelli (@EmaGiulianelli)
Italian version click here