San­nino is the lat­est vic­tim of for­eign in­va­sion

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

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.

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