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Part one of our in-depth interview with Watford's co-owner Gino Pozzo
I spent less than an hour in the company of Watford’s new co-owner Gino Pozzo on [last] Wednesday afternoon but left our interview hugely impressed by the man I had just met.
I was expecting the Italian to make an impact as a number of people who have met him in the past told me he is an impressive individual. But Gino surpassed my expectations. He spoke with confidence and passion about not only Watford but football as a whole, without the continual use of clichés or sound bites, and he is clearly knowledgeable about the passion which has resulted in his family purchasing three professional clubs.
Gino’s father Gianpaolo bought his local club Udinese in 1986 and helped guide them from Serie B to the Champions League qualifying stage, which they have reached in the last two seasons.
Granada became the family’s second club in 2009 and went from the third tier of Spanish football to survival in La Liga in three seasons. A remarkable achievement.
Gino was the more hands-on member of the family at Granada and that is the case once more with Watford, with the 47-year-old set to move to England next summer.
With emotional links to Udinese, who continue to chase Champions League qualification, and a La Liga outfit in Spain, you would forgive Hornets fans for being a little concerned that their beloved club would be third in the pecking order when it came to the Pozzos.
But Gino stressed: “There are other business interests as well but we really believe Watford are going to be our top project for the future - further down the road - because of the potential of English football.”
“Watford is a new project where we are dedicating a lot of the resources,” he added. “Our other projects do not need as much attention because they are much more developed and they have a system that is working by itself.
“Every club requires a different grade of attention. At this club, we have just had a lot of new players come in, new coaches and new faces in place so it does require a lot more attention at this stage than Udinese.
“It is not just based on the level of the competition. It is more about how well you are organised. When you are starting a new project, you definitely need a lot of resources placed in.
“I would say that in order of dedication, it is probably the other way around; Watford is number one, Granada number two and Udinese is number three.
“It is a different championship, different resources are available and there is a different style of players you can sign. That makes it difficult in many ways.”
The Premier League is often described as the best league in the world, rightly or wrongly, and Gino said he often watched English football.
He described the challenge of the English game as “a completely different experience” and said: “It has this strong tradition, strong background and a great history which is really appealing and really motivates us.”
The Pozzo family were traditionally involved in the woodworking industry and their association with football began due to a desire to help their local club, who were struggling financially.
Gino explained: “Football for us started as a passion when my father bought Udinese some 25 years ago and it was really because we were involved in the local community and wanted to help the club.
“Eventually we understood that further down the road, in order to succeed, you need to organise the club as a professional activity and not just something you could watch and pretend everything would work due to the money you invested.
“In the first year we invested a lot of money for poor results and at the end of that year, we understood that in order to succeed you need to organise the club like any other business regardless of the emotions. You need to run it in an efficient way to be successful on the pitch.
“I would not say football is our major activity and the major focus of attention but nevertheless, we enjoy doing it and we are very committed to do it the right way.”
Football owners, especially new ones, always say the things supporters want to hear. Why would they not? But with time, their claims often prove to be unfounded and the financial state of many English clubs is worrying.
The decision to loan 14 players to Watford this summer has seen the club, and the Pozzos, criticised by some. But I often ask doubters what is worse? Risking the very existence of your club by throwing money at permanent signings or utilising a flaw in the system which allows Udinese to fund Watford's promotion hopes?
The day of local businessmen buying ‘their club’ for emotional reasons have all but disappeared and almost every investor in football now is targeting the multi-millions of the Premier League. The Pozzos are no different of course.
However, Gino stressed: “Football is a long-term project. You never know what is going to happen in one or two years. That is not a time frame where you are able to develop a plan.
“You definitely need a long-term approach and you have to be able to change your vision depending on how things develop, as there is a difference between being in the Championship and being in the Premier League.
“We are definitely going to aim for the Premier League but we do not want to jeopardise the club’s finance or the way the club is run to do it. Sometimes when you push things too much, it just will not work in the long term.
"We definitely want to build something that is going to be stable in the Premier League and in order to do that, you have got to do things one step at a time and that is our objective.
"I think this is a club that can grow much further in the Premier League and can be a club where we can recognise our values and can grow our values inside the club."
Gino grew up in Udine for the majority of his childhood and at the age of 18, moved to the United States where he attended Harvard University and achieved his Masters.
He moved to Spain during his mid-20s due to business interests and has remained in the country for more than 20 years.
Gino currently lives in Barcelona with his wife and three children but they are already looking at schools in the Hertfordshire area ahead of their move to England next summer.
Alongside football and the woodwork industry, the Pozzos also have an electrical appliance business in Spain and are now involved in property and finance.
His family may have been in football for 25 years but there doesn't seem to be an arrogance about that fact when Gino talks.
He is comfortable over-seeing developments at Watford from afar and stated he has confidence in chief executive Scott Duxbury and technical director Gian Luca Nani, who run the club on a daily basis.
Gino explained: "Before choosing the people to run the club, you share a philosophy and we feel we have the same ideas and concepts. Then the right thing to do is allow them to work and apply those concepts. You can exchange opinions and help them keep on track and continue the direction.
"The important thing is that football in England is very different to Italy so we would not be able to reach the full potential of the club unless we have people locally who understand the difficulties of running the club locally. That is why we need people who know what the project is about.
“I think the good thing for them [Nani and Duxbury] is that they have owners who are used to going through this process and don't get nervous when things don't go right. We try to understand what is not working well and try to give them support to solve those problems.
“The results on the pitch will tell us how well we are doing but it is important that we share a common vision in the long term and that is why we are comfortable in giving space to people who are able to understand the local culture and the difficulties they will find better. That is a good mix I think.
“It has worked for us well in the past and I believe it will work well for us here.”
I’ll admit to having a few reservations when the Pozzo family took over Watford and were followed by 16 new signings. Many probably did.
But the attitude and quality of several of those loanees, and the progression being made on the pitch, has alleviated some of those concerns and after meeting Gino Pozzo, my confidence in the long-term future of Watford has increased even further.
I finished the interview by asking Gino if there was anything else he wanted to add? If he had a message for the supporters?
He replied: “It’s going to be a long journey to get to where we want to be eventually because there are a lot of things that need to be addressed and done. But we are very happy with the kind of environment that we’ve found.
“I think the message has already got across and people understand what we’re trying to do; they are very supportive. I think in the end, the fact that we’ve found this kind of environment which is friendly to the players will benefit the club.
“You see the way the players have been accepted, which is not normal because you have foreign players coming from Udinese and you might question their commitment. But once you understand that everybody is committed and the players are committed - that the players are here for the long term - everybody starts to enjoy it and join in. Understanding this is something that is stable and will grow in time.
“I think it’s going to be nice to see how this club becomes more and more competitive, where I hope the people who support this club can take pride in how we will be able to perform at a higher level.
“I have seen it before where a smaller club challenges a bigger club, with a much bigger budget, and you have a different soul. In the end it comes down to 11 players versus 11 and you see how Udinese has been able to compete over time and are able to challenge other clubs that have a much greater budget.
“The fact that you’re able to challenge them and beat them gives you particular satisfaction. You start small and grow to become competitive against a bigger club. I think people will enjoy that but we have to be patient because when you ask how long it will take, I don’t know the answer because things can happen very quickly, or it can take much longer. That is why we do not want to push too much and we do not plan to over-do things. We don’t want to over-invest and we don’t want to play everything in one card.
“We don't want to give supporters the message that if we don’t go up to the Premier League this year then it will be a disaster. We really would like to give it our best shot but if nothing happens, we’ll build on that to move to the next step. There will be a time when we are ready but it is about being consistent and I think everybody will understand that and everybody will enjoy it."
The second part of our interview with Gino Pozzo can be seen here.
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