It’s not very often someone who has never kicked a ball, been manager or owned the club has attracted as much fan debate as Watford’s sporting director Cristiano Giaretta.

The 55-year-old Italian joined the club in the summer of 2020 and ever since has been the generally silent member of the senior management team at the club.

Often referred to by head coaches, chairman Scott Duxbury and even owner Gino Pozzo, Giaretta has been far more talked about than he has ever spoken himself.

Because of his appointment by the owner, his previous time spent working for him at Udinese and the fact he is generally seen and not heard has all contributed to Giaretta becoming a figure of suspicion for Watford fans.

He’s often been a target for abuse too, generally when a player whose signing he has been involved in has not turned out to be a success.

Yet perhaps much of the doubt and scorn directed at him is because nobody knows quite what a Watford sporting director does – and what makes him qualified to do it.

Before sitting down and talking to him, as usually ahead of any interview I spent time researching the individual I was about to interview – and it turns out I’m as guilty as anyone because I had no idea Giaretta had a long, if lower level, career as a professional footballer.

“I spent seven years in the Academy at Monza, and played first-team football there in Serie B,” he said.

“I was a loyal player. I had seven years at Monza and then nine years at Lecco, which is a very nice town on the lake near Como.

“Then I had three years with Pro Sesto which is a club close to Milan. I didn’t move much, I was loyal.

“I played for 20 years as a professional, most of my career was in the second and third divisions in Italy, and I was a left-footed centre half.”

Watford Observer: Monza fansMonza fans (Image: Action Images)

Giaretta racked up more than 450 professional appearances, 271 of them for Lecco, and scored a total of 17 goals, not a bad return for a defender.

However, at no point did he consider taking his coaching badges, although he wanted to stay in the game and he knew precisely what he wanted to do.

“I retired when I was 38 years old because the owner at Pro Sesto knew I was keen to become a sporting director, and he gave me the chance,” said Giaretta.

“I retired from playing one day, and the next I started training to become a sporting director.

“Wanting to be a sporting director is something I believe you have to feel inside. There comes a point in every player’s career, perhaps around age 25 to 30, where you recognise what you will feel best doing when you retire.

“For a lot of players that is as a coach. For me, it was sporting director, especially as when I was younger I was always the representative to the Football Association for all the teams I played for. I was passionate about the rules of football, the rules of the federation, and how the game worked.

“I always had a passion about that side of football. I watched the sporting directors I worked with to see how they communicated, what they were doing and saying.

“In Italy, you have to get a licence to work as a sporting director. So when I retired I immediately went to Florence where the national training ground is, and I attended the course required to become a sporting director.

“Once I got the licence I began working officially. I always felt inside of me this is what I wanted to do. As a player, I never tried to play in Serie A, so my goal was because I had never reached Serie A as a player to reach the top-flight as a sporting director.

“That is what I achieved and this is now my 18th season as a sporting director.”

Having acquired the required qualifications at Pro Sesto, a small club in Lombardy that has generally plied its trade in Serie C and D, Giaretta moved to another club that many English football fans won’t have heard of: Novara.

Watford Observer: Bruno Fernandes celebrates scoring for Manchester UnitedBruno Fernandes celebrates scoring for Manchester United (Image: Action Images)

A Serie C side based in Piedmont, Novara would probably be even more anonymous than they are but for one signing they made more than a decade ago.

“I was working at Novaro, and it was there that I bought Bruno Fernandes from Boavista when he was 19-years-old,” said Giaretta.

“We started work on developing him as a player. What a player he is.”

Whether it was that one major coup or his work more generally that piqued the interest of the owner of another Italian club we may never know, because the club was Udinese and that owner was Gino Pozzo.

“Around the same time as that transfer of Fernandes, I got a phone call from Gino asking me what my situation was and would I like to have a conversation and perhaps an interview to work at Udinese,” Giaretta recalled.

“I had the interview, and I went to Udinese. That was it, as simple as that.

“The Pozzo family has been running Udinese for 32 years, and quite honestly they have created a model that everybody else in Italy has tried to follow.

“In terms of recruitment, organisation, facilities, everything. They created the model.

“They took a small club based in the north-east of Italy that was in the second division, and it became an important club in the Serie A that qualified for the Champions League and was playing against Barcelona.

“They know how to do football. Gino Pozzo is still considered one of the top management figures in football in terms of strategies for running a football club.

“What he did at Udinese is still there for all to see, and don’t forget Udine is a small town. Plus they took Grenada from the fourth division to La Liga. Watford has played six seasons in the Premier League and reached the FA Cup Final.

“I can only say good things about the Pozzo model, and still now it is a model that others follow.”

Watford Observer: Watford owner Gino PozzoWatford owner Gino Pozzo (Image: Holly Cant)

Giaretta spent three years at Udinese, before leaving to work for another Italian club, Ascoli, for two seasons before moving to Bulgaria for a stint with CSKA Sofia.

“There is always a moment for a sporting director to leave a club, when you decide you have done your job,” he said.

“After three seasons at Udinese it was the right moment for me to leave the club, but I went always having a great relationship with Gino Pozzo.

“We respect each other. I really appreciated from meeting the whole Pozzo family how they run a club, and I was impressed by that. Working for him was an important springboard for my career.

“Also I think Gino appreciated the job I did at Udinese. So we stayed in touch, but I was working for my team and Gino was with his team.”

And so it was, while working in Bulgaria, that Giaretta was approached for a second time by Pozzo.

“We had stayed in contact but not in constant communication, but then I got a call from him asking what I thought about joining Watford.

“I knew a lot about Watford. When I was at Udinese, Gino bought Watford in 2012, and so I was here from day one helping to check the facilities, helping with recruitment involving three clubs (Watford, Udinese and Grenada), working with the chefs to help them understand what diet was needed, and so on.

“I had been connected with Watford from 2012 and I had watched many, many games. After Gino bought Watford, I got to know a lot about the club.

“I think working in English football should be the ambition for everybody that does the same job as me.

“I have often said to other sporting directors and former colleagues in Italy that coming and working in England is what will complete your professionalism. If you can come here and work, it is really priceless.

“If you work in England, then it will empower your knowledge and position as a sporting director.”

Watford Observer: 'A very difficult time': Vicarage Road during the pandemic'A very difficult time': Vicarage Road during the pandemic (Image: Action Images)

Giaretta was brought in to replace Filippo Giraldi, and he moved to Vicarage Road just as fans were experiencing something they had not known before under the Pozzo regime.

Not only that, it was slap bang in the middle of the Covid crisis, with games being played behind closed doors and the whole world functioning in a very different way.

“I arrived here after the first relegation of Gino’s ownership. We were in a situation where we wanted to get straight back up to the Premier League again.

“The pandemic made it a really tough combination. It took a lot of energy to regroup, refresh and talk individually to each player and tell them not to panic, what is done is done and we cannot change the past. All we can do is change the future.

“We tried to create a good atmosphere at the club and around the training ground so that we could immediately go back to the Premier League.

“We did that, and it wasn’t easy. We saw more recently how tough it is to bounce back immediately.

“Going back to the Premier League first time is something that is possible if everybody is working in the same direction, and stays on the same page.

“It was a big achievement in a very difficult time.”