When Gino Pozzo sat down with me recently, there was a real emphasis on the fact his family are at Watford for the long haul and that everything was geared towards the long-term success of their newly-acquired club.
Whether it was the Hornets’ finances, the recruitment of players or the appointment of Gianfranco Zola, Pozzo spoke of the importance of stability and how things will take time.
The Premier League is the target, of course it is. That is why they took over the club. But as many before them have found, throwing money at football rarely solves the problem or achieves the desired results.
“We would love to win every game but that doesn’t mean we will not give Gianfranco Zola time,” Pozzo stated during our interview at the Hornets’ London Colney training base, hours before he headed home to Barcelona.
The Italian family have owned Udinese since 1986, Granada for the last three years, and they have transformed both clubs. Pozzo believes their track record in football shows they provide managers, or head coach in this instance, with stability and is confident Zola fits their philosophy “perfectly”.
Pozzo said: “The thing with football, and I have seen it over and over again in my 25 years in football, a new owner comes in and will tell you his vision about stability and all the good things they are going to do. In our case, you can look at our history and have a good feeling about how we approach football in terms of development, long-term commitment and stability.
“We have always created stability around the manager which is not always the case in Italy and Spain. You tend to have great changes in the management. Whereas in Italy, you look at Udinese and it is a stable club and we have maintained stability. Most of the times where we have changed manager it is because the manager has left the club.
“We take our time to choose the manager we think fits into our philosophy and Zola fits perfectly. So regardless of the short-term results, I think he will do an excellent job for us and we are looking forward to him being with us for a long time because it is a good match for him and it is a good match for us. That is what brings us together.
“We thought a lot about this before signing him and that is why we are convinced that it is the right match to maximise the kind of project we have with foreign players coming in and young players being able to develop alongside experienced players.
“He has very good knowledge of English football and he has a good understanding of what it means for a foreign player coming to this country and the difficulties they will face. And he is committed to the development of young players. So it is the perfect mix and that is why we think he will succeed and that is why we are looking long term.
“All these elements make it not so dependant on the short-term results. We will eventually look at being successful on the pitch and all this is part of Zola and his knowledge and the way he approaches football.”
During the summer transfer window, and afterwards, Zola indicated he would have prefered if Watford had not signed so many players. He has often referred to his 42-man squad being too large and the club have been working hard to send players out on loan.
The Hornets chief executive Scott Duxbury claimed Pozzo was keen to provide Zola with the best group of players possible and the delay in the takeover completion was a major factor in the extraordinary number of arrivals.
Watford have relied heavily on a ‘head of recruitment’ type figure for several years, with the manager ultimately making the final decision. The Hornets are now even closer to the European model when it comes to buying, or loaning, players but Pozzo stated “in general the policy is that the manager is involved in all the signings”.
He said: “I think both systems [traditional European recruitment and British] have their pros and cons and we hope to bring those two aspects together. If you are looking at the long term, especially in a smaller club, you want to retain as much knowledge on how to recruit a player as possible. If you only give that to a manager, then once the manager leaves he leaves with all that knowledge. It is not the club’s knowledge.
“So we would really like to have a stable structure which means you need to be involved directly in the process for looking for the best players. That does not mean the manager can not participate in that process, but it should be run by people who work within the organisation.
“In order for the long-term commitment of this project, we need people to be involved in the long term and whilst it is easy to retain a manager if you are Manchester United, in a smaller club the manager will eventually get a better offer and he will leave. At that point you do not want to lose all your knowledge just because one guy has left the club.
“That is why we have used this mixed approach in Udinese, in order to be able to retain the best knowledge internally. So while the manager has been changing over and over again, the overall style in signing players and developing players has been consistent. And this is why we have chosen a club the size of Watford because the idea could work here.”
The Hornets have recently signed a 14-year-old boy from Australia who has attracted interest from all the leading clubs in Europe since he was a young boy and has spent the last few years at AC Milan’s Academy in Australia.
Pozzo explains the relevant clubs’ head coaches do not have a huge say in which youngsters the club sign because of the likelihood of that person leaving in the future.
He said: “When you are looking at the very young players, those are the decisions that are normally made by the scouting staff because it is a different vision and you are considering things two years down the line. So it would be unfair for the coach to make a choice that he might not be able to support.
“In order to give the best support to the young players, we always appreciate the managers’ ideas and visions on that. But it has to be our commitment to grow the young players because the time for development could be longer than the time the coach stays with the individual club, especially when it comes to Italy. It is not the tradition for the manager to stay at the club as long as in England.
“When you are looking at the first-team squad, you are probably asking a lot more questions and the manager is much more involved. When you are talking about the youth development programme or young players you are buying, you would definitely ask for their opinion but you are more directly committed to the signing.”
There have been misconceptions in the national media when it comes to the way Watford operate under the Pozzos and in particular how many still believe the 14 loanees are all set to return to their parent clubs at the end of this season.
The Watford Observer revealed last week how the Hornets are likely to sign Daniel Pudil, Almen Abdi, Fernando Forestieri and Matej Vydra on permanent contracts in January.
But what would happen if Udinese supremo Gianpaolo Pozzo or the Italian club’s head coach Francesco Guidolin wanted one of the Watford loanees to return to Italy, such as Forestieri or Vydra?
Reassuringly, Gino Pozzo replied: “If you look at Granada, the players that performed the best, at the highest level, remained in Granada. Why? Because once the player has found the right environment to develop, the best move is to keep him there.
“We are expecting the players we have sent here to exceed expectations. We really believe they have the potential to become top players at Watford.
“If someone comes back then it is because the situation is such that we all understand the best move for him is to go back. But, for example, if Fernando Forestieri is doing extremely well at Watford, we do not see why we should bring him back. We have all the resources and we have all the players [Udinese need] and we prefer to start a new project instead of trying to jeopardise that project by sending him back [to Italy].
“It would be a danger to bring the player back and it would be the wrong move if he is doing so well here.
“If he is doing well, it means he has found the right environment to fully develop and we should stick to that and support that decision.”
Watford’s lack of funds means they have relied heavily on the support of Udinese, and to a lesser extent Granada, in the transfer market so far and that is likely to continue, in the short term at least.
But it would be incorrect to suggest Udinese will always sign the best players from the Pozzos’ world-renowned scouting network and then leave Watford with the rest – particularly in the future when Watford are better off financially.
When asked if Watford will be signing players from Udinese’s scouting network, Pozzo replied: “Why not? It is a matter of the resources available and Udinese, as a Serie A club, have a lot more available so it’s easier for them to invest.
“But that does not mean that at a certain point in the player’s development they could also be bought by Udinese and go on loan to Granada or Watford. That does not mean that Watford are not able to sign their own players. They have done so this year already (Manuel Almunia and Fitz Hall).
“As their [Watford’s] financial situation becomes more stable, we will be able to make greater investments. The starting point financially requires a very sound policy in terms of the investment we are able to make. We are in the Championship, we have a limited budget and we like to maintain a financial vision of not over spending, and that means that the resources available to Watford are limited.”
He continued: “For example, Granada in their first year were using most of our loans and now they are buying their own players and have lent some of them to Udinese. So it has gone the other way around.
“You have to make the project grow. So probably, a couple of years down the road, if everything goes well, you can expect Watford to buy players and maybe even loan them to Udinese. It can be the other way around.”
Watford have had owners in the past who have failed to fulfil their promises and provided false hope. So time will ultimately tell but with more than 25 years experience in football, one suspects our trust is better placed with the Pozzos and the future seems bright.
Read part one of our interview with Gino Pozzo here.