Sannino is the latest victim of foreign invasion
FAMOUSLY, Len Shackleton’s autobiography contained a chapter entitled ‘The Average Director’s Knowledge of Football, consisting of a single blank page’. Then, as now, the men in suits were kept at arm’s length, their money welcomed but their input scorned. Their domain was the boardroom, not the pitch.
But as Beppe Sannino’s sudden departure from Watford illustrates, that kind of thinking is as out-dated as the backpass and the leather caser.
Sannino resigned on Sunday, just hours after a 4-2 victory over Huddersfield had sent the Hornets second in the Championship. “I have,” he said,“gone as far as I can.”
Note, here, that the 57-year-old didn’t use the old perennial “taken the club” as far as I can. This was personal.
For weeks, even months, it has been rumoured that the dressing room was fractious; a discontent with Sannino’s old-school methods, a growing disquiet over his inability to give English instructions.
But while there were undoubtedly arguments between Sannino and his players (which manager was ever universally adored?) it is not why the Italian currently has his feet up back in Lombardy. It was, in fact, Watford’s owners the Pozzo family who’d tired of Sannino’s attitude.
As we all know, the Pozzos also own La Liga side Grenada and Serie A outfit Udinese. Both turn a profit, both are relatively successful. Both churn out top-class players to beat the band. And, to the Pozzos at least, that is no accident.
Over 20 years, they have developed a standardised system of coaching, monitoring their players’ training sessions through GPS devices that send data back to HQ in Italy. They demand exceptional levels of fitness.
Sannino, though, refused to yield, insisting on extensive tactical sessions that, in the eyes of the Pozzos, left Watford’s players bang out of shape.
He was warned to ditch the analysis and defensive drills. He didn’t listen. As a result, he jumped before he was pushed.
Sannino’s final missive – “my methods were working, my results speak for themselves” – was the most thinly-veiled of parting shots.
Had Giampaolo Pozzo been, say, Sam Longson, those results might have immunised Sannino. Brian Clough got away with antagonising directors for decades by delivering the goods on the pitch.
English chairmen begrudgingly accept Shackleton’s verdict and generally behave accordingly. But foreigners? That’s a whole different ball game.
Pozzo, like Massimo Cellino at Leeds, Fawaz Al-Hasawi at Forest and Vincent Tan at Cardiff, isn’t content to simply stump up the cash and then cross his fingers. He wants a finger in his expensively procured pie.
In Pozzo’s case, it is training methods. In Cellino’s, it is deciding which players to sign. And as Fawaz proved last season, if you don’t pick his favourites, you’ll end up in the can.
Here in England, we call it meddling and interference.We lampoon these guys as madmen and megalomaniacs.Yet on the continent, Asia and in the Far East, they simply call it being an owner.
It is a huge cultural clash – and it is one that every manager must get to grips with. As of today, 12 Championship clubs are in foreign hands, 13 if you count Max Demin’s stake at Bournemouth. That’s more than the Premier League.
Even League One isn’t immune, with Barry Hearn selling Leyton Orient to Italian billionaire Francesco Bechetti in the summer.
Hearn – a man whose prodigious foresight has made him a millionaire – said at the time: “The day when all 92 clubs in the country are owned by foreigners is coming now. The Premier League revenue makes any club a trophy asset and if you put in tens of millions then you are pretty much guaranteed to get there.”
Hearn, by his own admission, is a “little Englander” opposed to foreign ownership.Yet even he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse by investors intent on a slice of the pie.
It is a trend that no-one can ignore. Foreign owners aren’t going away. And the all-powerful managers of today are fast becoming the impotent head coaches of tomorrow.