When the Pozzo family took over Watford and began the process of filling the squad with loan players from their other clubs, Udinese and Granada, few people outside south-west Hertfordshire took much notice.
But when the Hornets started challenging for promotion, opponents to the business model queued up to claim that it was in danger of destroying the English game.
Rivals clubs instinctively opposed the method, even going as far to say it was an abuse of the loan system. They asked what would happen when all the loanees went back? What would the Hornets be left with then?
But little attempt was made to understand how the Pozzos operated or get under the skin of a global scouting network that is based on good financial planning as well as sporting sense.
In the Watford book Tales from the Vicarage Volume 2, journalist Paolo Tomaselli explains in detail how the model works and introduces us to Andrea Carnevale, who he describes as ‘the conductor, or the mastermind, or even better, the admiral given that his job is to co-ordinate three fleets in the often stormy seas of European football’.
Carnevale was a brilliant forward who starred with Diego Maradona at Napoli and alongside Roberto Baggio in the Italian national team.
Since 2002, he has worked for Udinese, establishing a ‘Big Brother-style’ television room at the club’s Stadio Friuli, where recordings of matches from all over the world are scoured for the glint of footballing gold.
In an exclusive interview with Tales from the Vicarage, Carnevale explains that the method is simple, even if there are no guaranteed short-cuts to success.
"Our secret on the international transfer market is simple – or at least it sounds it when you say it: we have to get there before everyone else, or certainly before teams with more money and prestige," he said.
Once a player has been spotted, the key is to nurture them and, with three clubs to choose from, they can be placed where they will be best suited.
"People said all we were doing was putting all Udinese’s rejects on a plane and taking them to London. But we don’t leave things to chance. We chose the ones who, in our opinion, were best suited to English football.
"I had to put myself through a fast-track education on English football and I came to the conclusion that the English second division (Championship) is excellent but that Italian football is more advanced on a tactical level."
So, if Carnevale is assembling a squad of more than 100 players for Udinese, Granada and Watford to choose from, who decides which players go where?
"Gian Luca Nani is the technical director of Watford, so he takes care of everything on and off the field. We, in Udine, have a lot of input into the footballing side, but there has to be unanimous approval before we do anything with any player."
And Nani said: "Watford is an independent club but we’d be foolish not to use the know-how of the Udinese scouting network. Thanks to that collaboration, we can build something big here."
The full interviews with Carnevale and Nani are in Tales from the Vicarage Volume 2.
Tales from the Vicarage (Peloton Publishing, £10.99) is available from Londis in Vicarage Road and Watford Museum as well as online at Amazon. However, readers of the Watford Observer can get the book with free delivery from www.watfordfcbook.com.