Initially criticised in England, the Pozzo family’s ownership of Watford Football Club makes a lot of sporting and business sense at a time when financially prudent measures are to be enforced across European football.
There was a mixture of excitement and fear when Giampaolo Pozzo’s family took over English Championship club Watford in June 2012.
This was further heightened when manager Sean Dyche was unexpectedly sacked in early July, with former West Ham United boss and Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola brought in to lead the club in England’s second tier.
The Pozzo family are hardly strangers to club ownership, it is well known that the family have owned Serie A’s Udinese FC since 1986.
The same Udinese that has been the home of players such as Oliver Bierhoff and Alexis Sanchez. In 2009, the family added Spanish top flight club Granada into their stable.
It has taken much of the 2012-13 season but the Pozzo family plan is working in England.
The Vicarage Road outfit are in the hunt for a place in the English Premier League with a footballing business model that has shown to have a lot of logical merits.
What has made this ownership structure interesting is the way players are loaned and shifted through all three clubs.
Nine players are on loan at Watford from Udinese and Granada, while five are on loan at Granada from Udinese.
It is a large chunk of players from Udinese’s ranks with the benefit of blooding them in a new footballing environment.
Underperforming players or youngsters in Italy will be sent to the affiliated clubs to gain experience.
Parallels can be drawn from this model to that of baseball in the United States. Essentially major league clubs farm their players through their minor league affiliates – As, AAs and AAAs.
This gives opportunities for younger players to rise the ranks and be presented as close to the polished product should they be called upon to join a major league club’s roster.
From a sporting point of view, the positives are numerous. The talent pool of players is spread across three clubs and three different leagues with the chance of maintaining a wide net of players.
A success story is Matej Vydra, at 20 he is on loan at Watford from Udinese and he’s gone on to hit 20 goals as Watford are pushing for promotion to the English Premier League.
Since he’s a player that is becoming made for the English game, then the chance to on-sell him to English clubs becomes alluring, and that could be a provision if Watford do not win promotion to the top flight.
The consequence is that it disrupts the stability of keeping a settled squad, while another drawback is that it might not develop local talent within each club.
Watford for example have a highly developed youth academy but a decision has to be made, use players that have experience in Serie A or La Liga or elevate youth players?
How can you plan for the long term when the idea is to parachute in loan signings who need a bit of experience?
To look at it from a business viewpoint, it is a sound practice. A greater pool of players can be shifted through each club, thus the reduced reliance on paying out transfer fees.
The reverse effect is that if a player is successful at either one of these three clubs then suitors will come calling, adding to player revenue streams.
This may happen if a great offer for Vydra comes in. Let’s not forget that Udinese have had a number of transfer successes in the last 10 years – Sanchez and Mauricio Isla spring to mind.
Watford have been accused of circumventing the English player loan system but the club has not broken any rules.
It is worth noting that loans from foreign clubs into England are registered as transfers.
In the current economic climate of European football, the business and sporting model employed by the Pozzo family should be investigated with interest.
It has its critics but in the current situation where too many clubs are hanging on a knife edge and escalating transfer fees and wages, this is a system that is exploring a new way of remaining competitive in three of Europe’s top football divisions.