Premier League

The Uncomfortable Truth: Watford Have An Owner Many Would Love

 • by Adam Newson
Share:facebooktwitteremail
news now

It had been a while since Watford were portrayed as everything that is wrong with modern football. But the decision to sack Marco Silva meant the Hornets were once again public enemy No.1.

The outcry was as swift as it was ill-informed. How dare the club part company with the Portuguese when they were sitting tenth in the Premier League, many said. Some even wished relegation on Watford for their decision.

Meanwhile, their Italian owner, Gino Pozzo, was branded a short-term thinker. A man who ruthlessly sacks managers without careful consideration and stacks his club with an army of foreign loanees.

Yet nothing could be further from the truth. And this ignorance has tarnished Watford on too many occasions and for far too long.

Harvard graduate Pozzo is an owner many Premier League side would be lucky to have. He is at the club’s training ground virtually every day, engaging in conversations with coaches, players and administrative staff alike.

Does he make mistakes? Of course, nobody is infallible. But since his family bought Watford in July 2012 the club has been transformed, almost unrecognisably, both on and off the pitch.

The Hornets were financially on their knees when the Pozzo family paid £500,000 to take Watford off the hands of businessman Laurence Bassini. They then spent £10million clearing the club’s debt to ensure Watford didn’t go into administration.

That act immediately got fans onside. The club had been saved. The next ambition of the Italian family was for it to soar.

Watford’s new owners decided Sean Dyche wasn’t the man to lead that revolution and he was let go.

It was seen as a harsh dismissal as the club had finished 11th in the Championship the previous season despite having a squad largely made up of academy graduates, free transfers and smart loan signings.

But the Pozzos introduced a new structure at the club, one Dyche wouldn’t have wanted to work under. It was more European and had been effective for many years at Serie A side Udinese, which the Italian family have owned since 1986.

That structure remains to this day. Watford do not have a manager, they have a head coach. That makes the world of difference and it has allowed the club to grow despite changing head coach nines times over the past five-and-a-half years.

Pozzo isn’t a man who often gives interviews, particularly with the English press. But he did sit down with Football Whispers editor Frank Smith in November 2012 for an in-depth discussion. And his views on head coaches are particularly relevant.

“If you are looking at the long term, especially in a smaller club, you want to retain as much knowledge on how to recruit a player as possible,” Pozzo told the Watford Observer.

“If you only give that to a manager, then once the manager leaves he leaves with all that knowledge. It is not the club’s knowledge.

“We really like to have a stable structure which means we need to be involved directly in the process for looking for the best players. That does not mean the manager can not participate in that process, but it should be run by people who work within the organisation.

“In order for the long-term commitment of this project, we need people to be involved in the long term. While it is easy to retain a manager if you are Manchester United, in a smaller club the manager will eventually get a better offer or will leave.

“At that point you do not want to lose all your knowledge just because one guy has left the club.”

You Might Also Like

It’s that desire to retain knowledge which means a head coach is dispensable at Watford. Is that ideal? Probably not. It’s arguably why Silva was so keen to speak to Everton back in November.

The Portuguese was a cog in a well-oiled machine at Vicarage Road, and not even a particularly big one. He wanted more. But Silva knew what he was getting himself into last summer as Watford make no secret of how they operate.

Every head coach that had gone before Silva had to accept they would be given tools to work with. Many did so to good effect, the likes of Slaviša Jokanović and Quique Sánchez Flores and even Walter Mazzarri achieving the club’s goals with little grumbling.

Why they weren’t kept on beyond that transcends simple results.

Jokanovic failed to agree a new contract and his deal expired. A break clause in Sánchez Flores’ contract was activated after one season because performances had deteriorated and he wasn’t giving younger prospects a chance in the first-team, something which is vital to the Pozzo model.

Mazzarri failed to learn English and wasn’t liked by fans and players alike, hardly a recipe for long-term success but he still lasted the season.

Delve into recent history and the claim that Pozzo is a man who changes managers on a whim is further disproved.

Gianfranco Zola was in charge for almost 18 months before resigning after a run of poor results. He wasn’t sacked. His replacement, Beppe Sannino, was going against the Pozzo clubs’ data-analysts and had fallen out with the players, so resigned. He wasn’t sacked.

Oscar Garcia was brought in but health reasons meant he resigned after just 27 days in charge. He wasn’t sacked. Billy McKinlay, Garcia’s assistant, was promoted but lasted eight days as it immediately became clear he wanted to be a manager instead of a head coach. He was sacked.

So let’s tally up. Of the ten head coaches employed by Watford since their takeover, two have been sacked mid-season. That’s hardly the telltale sign of an owner who enjoys wielding the axe at the first opportunity.

Pozzo, alongside chairman and CEO Scott Duxbury, make strategic and calculated decisions. On the pitch that has resulted in Watford quickly establishing themselves as a Premier League club following promotion. They haven’t yet truly flirted with relegation.

Off it, the Hornets have gone from playing in a three-sided rundown stadium to having a ground fit for top-flight football. Their training facilities have also been upgraded, with new pitches laid and medical facilities improved – Watford were also one of the first Premier League sides to have an on-site cryotherapy to aid recovery.

All these facts fly in the face of the popular belief that Pozzo runs his club badly. Not every decision is the right one but the implementation of a long-term vision is rarely done as successfully.

Watford are a club many should aspire to be like. That’s the uncomfortable truth.

Click here to like Football Whispers on Facebook

related
content