Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Pozzo's Watford: The case for the Prosecution

The Pozzo Revolution: This man/bear is not a fan.
A lot of normal, well balanced and pleasant folk will have today done something they would never normally dream of. They will have read an article in the Daily Mail. The article is by Martin Samuel and it represents the first high profile dig at the Pozzo family and what they are attempting to achieve at Watford Football Club. If you haven't read it you can do so here.

I'm not so blinkered as to think that everyone will agree with what is going on at Watford. It's radical and it understandably leaves a lot of people, Watford fans included, feeling very uncomfortable. I think a healthy debate about the right and wrongs of what is unfolding at Vicarage Road should be welcomed and encouraged, and as supporters we'd have been foolish not to expect our club to come in for criticism for their chosen direction of travel. Mr. Samuel is the first high profile journalist to publish an overtly negative view, and whilst he correctly identifies some of the issues currently challenging fans of Watford and indeed football in general, I feel the piece is wide of the mark in a number of areas.

1) Context. Mr Samuel paints a romantic picture of the club pre-Pozzo regime. He correctly singles out Sean Dyche for praise, his achievements as boss last season were astonishing and his sacking was obviously undeserved. What he fails to point out is the backdrop against which Dyche was working. It was a well known fact that Watford didn't have much to spend, but only now is the true chaos that was taking place behind the scenes coming to light.

The previous owner at the club was notoriously quiet, speaking out only to make outlandish promises that he would never keep. It also transpires that he wasn't running the clubs finances in quite the way we'd all of hoped. Suffice to say that if the Pozzo family hadn't taken over at WD18, there would have been every possibility of Watford ceasing to exist. The cold hard facts are this. It doesn't matter if you agree with the Pozzo methods or not. A future with them was the only viable option, it was their way or no way at all.

I'd be interested to learn what Mr Samuel would prefer - a club out of business for good, or a club operating a model which he disagrees with. Which is the lesser of two evils?

2) "This should not be allowed to happen" No-one is denying that the number of loans Watford have on their books is out of the ordinary. Even those with a full understanding of the Pozzo way of working will have been staggered by the number of players coming through the Vicarage Road doors. It's a shock. But is it wrong? Firstly, and this doesn't make it right, there are no rules against it. But what about morally? Are Watford devaluing the Championship by becoming Udinese's "tool"?

I don't think so.

The plan is clear. Improve the club with an influx of borrowed players. Attain promotion. Continue to use the scouting network to loan or purchase quality players and become an established top flight club, eventually becoming self sufficient with no need for loans or wealthy investors. A simple plan - no guarantees of course, but what's wrong with it? What are the options? Not to strive for success? To continue in a continually hard battle to simply stay afloat?

Why is this approach less palatable than watching on as eye-watering sums of money are pumped from various sources across the globe into the 'top' English clubs to ensure their success? The truth of the matter is that journalists, commentators and brainwashed supporters have spent too long fawning over the top of the Premier League, choosing to ignore the spiralling wages, increased costs of tickets and other warning signs, constantly seduced by claims of the self proclaimed best league in the world and Mario Balotelli. Whilst the focus of these people has remined the top four of the Premier League, the rest of football in his country has been fighting an increasingly hard battle to stay afloat. Not just to stay competitive - to stay in existence. "Yeah, but did you see that backheel from Sergio Aguero?..."

So now Watford are trying a different route to success, choosing not to continue down a route that may keep the club in business, but little else. Choosing not to fight consistently fight to just tread water. Choosing to try and move forward. The method of doing so has not been done before in this country, certainly not to this extent so raised eyebrows are no surprise, but just because it's different, it doesn't necessarily make it wrong.

Mr Samuel asserts that loans of this magnitude shouldn't be allowed to happen, so what is his answer? To stand by and applaud as the usual suspects buy their way to glory whilst the rest of the game suffers and stagnates? Watford have a plan, that if successful will see them in a position to be self sufficient. Who is closer to that goal? Watford or Manchester City?

3) The West Ham Three. An inexplicable amount of Mr Samuel's article is devoted to detailing the deal that took Savio Nsereko to West Ham. Apparently, the fact that he cost West Ham £10 million and didn't set the world on fire is enough to suggest that Gianfranco Zola, Gianluca Nani and Scott Duxberry are no good. Dig a little deeper and you'll learn that Savio had been named 'player of the season' at that summers U19 European Championships, making him one of the most sought after players at the time of his transfer, whilst a series of  health problems contributed to his troubled career.

Further examination of the tenure of Zola, Nani and Duxberry at West Ham reveals that Zola steered the club to ninth in the Premier League whilst CEO Duxberry managed to shave 40% off the wage bill - an urgent requirement after the gross mismanagement of the doomed Eggert Magnusson regime. Sullivan and Gold came in, sacked the lot and the club was relegated. Make of that what you will, but I have to question the relevance of one deal when it comes to assessing how equipped the trio are to succeed at Watford. I've been told Martin Samuel is a West Ham supporter. I don't know if this is true, but wouldn't it be disappointing if a national journalist was to let his allegiance cloud his judgement?

Of course that's not to say that the piece doesn't articulate the fears and concerns of many supporters. Watford losing their identity is an oft aired worry. Personally I'm inclined to agree with Gabriel Marcotti on this when he said; "For me, if you're a fan, your loyalty is to the shirt and the badge. Nothing else. The guys who wear the shirt and the guys who run the club are just caretakers." but when a club parachutes in 14 loanees, it's hard not to share those concerns.

The article also highlights Watford's excellent track record with developing youth and it's hard to believe that this hard earned reputation won't be damaged as part of the adopted approach, with players who would previously have been attracted to Watford by first team opportunities being forgiven for thinking twice about joining with a swathe of players ahead of them. Whilst reputational damage seems inevitable, how it plays out in practice will only become clear with time.

If the article achieves anything, it is to highlight the fact that these are uncharted and unsettling times for the majority of Watford fans, many of whom feel utterly contradicted by recognising and understanding both the good and the bad of the Pozzo plan. Whatever their feelings though, I'm sure Hornets supporters will be united in refuting Martin Samuels' claims that "Watford are a snapshot of all that is wrong with modern football". For that, I suggest he looks a bit closer when he returns to writing about the best league in the world.

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  1. good points you raise.

    to suggest watford are an example of what is wrong with football is laughable. the pozzos have a track record of being frugal and building their clubs up organically.

    yes, we've been given an injection of new players but there were five survivors from last season on the pitch on saturday, not to mention almunia and hall who aren't from the pozzo nest.

    when the likes of pompey are going bust and there are high profile allegation of racism going on, to focus on us as the embodiment of what is most wrong with the game is a joke.

    frankly, the original article smacks of - it's new, it's foreign, i am not benefiting - therefore i am against it.

    i suggest mr samuel hires a researcher and while he's at it, a stylist.

  2. Great balanced view that certainly represents both my hopes and concerns as a Watford fan this season.

  3. Concise,Straight,Honest and Respectful didnt even charge for it?
    We need to take a leap of faith sometimes
    Glad your voice is heard by us fellow Hornets!

    Appreciate that!

  4. I'd say that sums up my feelings too, it's certainly an interesting time. I find it strange to portray Watford as everything that's bad with modern football when you have so many clubs throwing money around like confetti. I think we should be commended for taking a vastly different direction.

  5. I'd like to say that sounding reasonable in the face of Daily Mail bile is a fairly easy task however, you've illustrated it in a way I could only hope to do so.

  6. The question is, would he have been so derogatory to the new watford set up had watford had a better start to the season?

  7. Thank you for a very good response to Mr Samuels.I hope he reads it and feels a little silly over some of his points. The idea of the loan system is genius. Its not 11 loans, its 11 transfers with no transfer fee. these players are part of a 3 thronged company that sends its employees to work wherever they want to get a job done. These loans will be with us until they aren't required or no longer can do there job. That could be years if the pozzos wanted or zola requires them. It is flouting the systemrut why not. Time will tell how successfull it will be.

  8. Interestingly, Granada CF faced the same sort of criticisms, though mainly from rivals and opposing fans, as they climbed up the divisions following the Pozzo family investment and arrival of numerous players from Udinese.

    Granada fans too had occasional concerns, but ultimately they're appreciative of the fact that they're now seeing two things that they never expected to see beforehand:

    1 - The club surviving, financially comfortable and with a good future.

    2 - The club playing in the Primera DivisiĆ³n after a 35 year absence.

    There will always be critics - and some of the criticisms are valid to a certain extent. However, the model being used at Watford FC is sound and has a proven track record.

    Udinese, Granada and Watford are all "modest" clubs. None generate the sort of income that would see them fighting in the top-flight of their respective divisions, without a somewhat alternative approach.

    This "Udinese Model" quite frankly, is something different from the "norm" in football. Like many things that people don't understand enough about, it is criticised.

    Excellent piece here though, with a far more objective and balanced view on things

  9. I don't think what we are doing is right or fair, but football isn't fair is it? I am therefore happy with it as it puts us on a more even (but still far behind) scale with the bigger clubs that can throw money around. It seems blackburn and forest (and others) have money to throw around in this division which is somewhat unfair on those that don't. I'll be as happy as any Watford fan if we get promotion and even happier if we can stay there using this method. I do however think this may need to happen sooner rather than later before people take notice of critism like this and the loan loophole is closed although perhaps instead of loans they could be free transfers?

    Saying what we are doing is all that is wrong with football is laughable, perhaps it is adding to the wrongs though.

  10. This is one of the few seasons in a long time when I've actually enjoyed watching the football regardless of the score (most seasons a 'good game' is usually only defined as to whether we've won or not). Some of the players are obviously a class above what we're used to seeing at the Vic. And it's clear that the players are playing with passion and commitment.

    However, do I agree with it? No

    A club should be based on its own players, not someone else's. And yes I know all about the international loophole about many of these not being classed as loans, but they are not our players and most of them won't be staying.

    The justification about it being better than the alternative is ridiculous. That's applying a subjective, specific example (us) to a model of operation. If you agree with the model that's fine, but don't defend it purely on the basis of what would have happened to us. If this was happeing to, say, Leicester, I really think a lot of people defending it at the moment would be criticising them

    Many people -rightly- criticised the Doncaster model last year. But surely that was a better model in respect of at least they were their own players.

    If you're happy with the model then presumably you'd be happy with that being extended so that European football is run by a handful of clubs each with their 'stable' of teams across each league. Yes?

  11. Anonymous. I am not trying to justify the system used by the Pozzo family on the grounds that it was our only option. I know that doesn't make it right - or wrong. What I was trying to point out was that Martin Samuel completely ignored the fact that before the takeover, we were a club on our knees. He chose instead to paint a rosy picture, a cosy image of Sean Dyche merrily over-achieving on a shoestring budget, before the big bad Italians came and Watford sold their soul in pursuit of success. We all know that's not what was happening, and he should have mentioned it.

    The Pozzo takeover is better than the alternative - it doesn't make it right.

    The Doncaster situation was wholly different, in my opinion. The club was used as a shop window for players in a particular agents' stable. None were on long term deals and they were there with the sole aim of achieving a move for themselves and therefore a percentage for the agent, Willie Mackay. There was no long term strategy for the club, and like it or not, there is at least that in place at Watford. The Pozos want success for Watford. Mackay simply wanted success for the players who were on loan at Doncaster.

    Thanks for reading and taking the time to post, it really does show the depth of feeling on this subject.

    Interesting times.

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