Pozzo money changes the game
DEPENDING on your point of view, Giampaolo Pozzo is either a visionary dragging football into the 21st century or a parasite who represents everything wrong with the modern game.
But either way, the Watford owner is making some serious cash. What’s more, he’s proving that you don’t need to be a Russian oligarch or Saudi sultan to sign the best players in the world.
“He has shown everybody in Italy the way to run a football club,” said Aurelio De Laurentiis,” the Napoli chairman and a close friend of Pozzo. “Before it was the plaything of a rich man. Pozzo has made it a business.”
An Udine native who made his fortune in the manufacture of woodworking tools, Pozzo bought Udinese in 1986 with the club heading for relegation to Serie B.
Back then, there was no grand plan; Pozzo’s aim was simply to return the club to the top tier. But by 1995, having seen Udinese bounce between the top two divisions like a yo-yo and watched helplessly as the likes of Milan and Juventus hoovered up the best talent, he realised a change of tack was required.
“If you can do an AC Milan, Inter or Juventus, great,” he said.“If you can’t, then you have to do something else. Work hard, innovate, put a cap on salaries, sign players on long contracts. Most importantly, employ scouts who are able to find young people around the world at affordable prices, and coaches who are able to enhance them and make them champions worth millions.”
So that’s what he did, starting with Oliver Bierhoff, who was signed for a touch over £1m from Italian minnows Ascoli. Within three seasons he was a German international, topping the Serie A scoring charts in 1997-98 with 27 goals and eventually joining AC Milan for £10m.
And over the next decade, aided by trusted lieutenant Pierpaolo Marino, Pozzo set up a 50-strong scouting network that remains to this day the envy of world football.
The list of Udinese alumni is formidable: David Pizarro, Vincenzo Iaquinta, Morgan De Sanctis, Simone Pepe, Sulley Muntari, Asamoah Gyan.
Then the big ones – Alexis Sanchez, sold for £30m to Barcelona, Gokhan Inler, the Swiss midfielder flogged to his old mate De Laurenti- is for £18m.
This scouting doesn’t come cheap, tipping the scales at a reported £4m per season. But the returns are huge. In the last decade, Udi- nese have received over £206 million from sales in the transfer market. Deducting purchases of £94 million during the same period gives net proceeds of an £112 million, more than any other Serie A club by far.
Yet Pozzo is more than just a shameless profiteer. He has invested heavily in Udinese’s stadium, just as he is currently modernising Watford’s.
“It is an essential step,” he says. “The TV broadcasters are constantly improving their product, so if the stadium isn’t comfortable the fans will stay at home on the sofa, which is more comfortable and costs less.”
Pozzo’s wife Giuliana – nicknamed ‘the Iron lady of Italian football” by the Press and rumoured to be the real power behind the throne – also runs several community projects. While Pozzo is away, she runs the club.
He also believes in stability, with Udinese manager Francesco Guidolin now into his fourth year. His philosophy is simple. “Many presidents do not accept the thing that most often governs the game of football: luck. You do not sack a coach for bad luck.” Pozzo’s son Gino, a Harvard educated economist and football agent, first suggested branching into other countries. Granada was acquired in 2009,Watford in 2012. Now the three share a pool of some 50-plus players from around the world.
And while the move has not been universally popular – Watford’s galaxy of loan stars were blasted by Ian Holloway in 2013 – it has been successful, with Granada reaching La Liga and the Hornets a whisker from the Premier League.
“It is not about buying cheap,” said Pozzo last year. “It is about buying good. That is a tradition for us and I want it to be a tradition for all our clubs. When I look at the players we have produced, I am very proud.”
PROFIT AND BOSS: Watford owner Giampaolo Pozzo
SCOUT-STANDING: Alexis Sanchez was sold to Barcelona for £30m