Pozzo money changes the game

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Chris Dunlavy

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.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

PROFIT AND BOSS: Wat­ford owner Gi­ampaolo Pozzo

SCOUT-STAND­ING: Alexis Sanchez was sold to Barcelona for £30m

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