The Pozzo Family
Posted by Ryan Smith | Published on February 18, 2016
When it was announced that an Italian family with name of ‘Pozzo’ was taking over Watford in 2012, you’d be forgiven for not really knowing who they were. Allow me to introduce them to you, the Pozzo family are an Italian family who own Udinese Calcio and Granada. Giampaolo Pozzo owns Granada and Udinese Calcio; it’s his son, Gino Pozzo, who owns and oversees all things Watford. Giampaolo bought Udinese Calcio in July 1986. Udinese were Giampaolo’s local team.
He bought them after a scandal leading to Udinese obtaining a nine point deduction in the Serie A. They were relegated the year after. Giampaolo, however, got Udinese promoted again and bounced back in the 1997/1998 season earning them an admirable third place, qualifying them into the Champions League.
The Pozzo family have a very good reputation with scouting, especially with buying young players – Alexis Sanchez for example. The Chilean started his footballing career playing for Chilean club Cobreloa (Club de Deportes Cobreloa), he was then bought by Giampaolo Pozzo in 2006 to play for Udinese, loaned out to Colo-Colo and River Plate, before being sold to Spanish giants Barcelona for a fee believed to be in the region of £25m. He would then move to Arsenal for a fee believed to around £35m.
Samir Handanovic is another product of the great scouting network the Pozzo family have. Samir was bought from Domzale, a Slovenian side. He was then signed by Udinese in the summer of 2004 at the age of 20. After loan spells at Lazio, Treviso and more successfully Rimini, he then made 182 appearances for Udinese before being sold to Inter Milan for £8.5m, around €11m.
Granada were bought by the Pozzo family in 2009 and after being on the brink of closure in the summer 2009 the club has gone from strength to strength.
As part of the takeover, large numbers of players contracted to Italian club Udinese Calcio as well as its youth players were sent to Granada. After successively defeating Celta de Vigo (1–1, penalty shootout) and Elche (1–1 on aggregate, away goals rule) in 2011, Granada were promoted back into the top flight for the first time in since 1976.
Granada then survived relegation back into the second division of Spanish football, the next year finishing a respectable 15th based on the fact that they were the most active spenders in the window that year. Allan Nyom was part of that active spending window, being one of the players who joined Granada. Interestingly enough, Nyom was a Udinese player, however spent an astonishing six years on loan with Granada!
So, where do Watford come into the Pozzo’s business? In 2012 the Pozzo family bought the Hornets for a fee believed to be around £500,000. The family said that the takeover would be “interesting”. Interesting it was, as almost immediately they had to commit spending £10m to clear the debt that the previous owner, Laurence Bassini had left behind.
The previous owner of Watford, Bassini showed very little ambition for the club progressing or the club in general. All he wanted to gain from the club was money, which is an all too common occurrence nowadays in modern football.
Examples of Bassini’s ‘business’ included Danny Graham. After being the top goal-scorer in the Championship the previous season newly promoted Swansea made a bid of £3.5m which was accepted – of course. Also a £1m bid for winger Will Buckley was accepted in the same window.
Marvin Sordell would also be shown the door after 27 goals in 81 games for Watford in two-and-a-half years; Sordell earned a £3 million move to at the time Premier League side Bolton Wanderers in January 2012.
The first move the Pozzo family made was to sack Sean Dyche with immediate effect and appoint fellow Italian, Gianfranco Zola who has a reputation for attractive football. A big name like Gianfranco was always going to be a boost for the players, especially the youngsters.
They (Pozzo) then took a handful of players who needed experience and or game time to meet requirements at Udinese and Granada. These players included: Fernando Forestieri, Nathaniel Chalobah on loan from Chelsea, Cristian Battocchio, Marco Cassetti, Daniel Pudil, Almen Abdi, Ikechi Anya and Matěj Vydra. All of these players have had a key say in where The Hornets are today.
A lot of people not involved with Watford criticized the way Gino Pozzo and his family went about business in the Championship – Ian Holloway being one of the first people to go public about what he thought of loaning as many players as you can to a fellow feeder club. The Englishman wasn’t very happy, saying:
“They’ve (Watford) got some world-class players that they’ve borrowed from almost one club, it seems pretty ludicrous to me.”
“We’re only allowed to borrow two from the same team in this country. Unlimited abroad? That gives a licence to people to buy English clubs, chuck all their players over here and have a reserve team.
“What if Barcelona wanted to buy us and play their ‘B’ team for us? We’ve got to sort this out.
“No arguing – what their manager is doing and how they’re doing it is fantastic. If there’s a loophole, they’ve found it and some of those players are as good as any I’ve seen in the world.
“But I can’t believe there’s such a massive loophole, and my question is – where are those English players going to come from?”
The very next season: Matěj Vydra scored 22 goals, Troy Deeney scored 20, Almen Abdi scored 12 and Fernando Forestieri scored 8. These players were key for Watford coming agonisingly close to promotion. Watford finished the season with 23 wins and 77 points. They were 3rd one place of automatic promotion.
After being 1-0 down at half time if you will from the first leg, Watford were going to have to produce something special if they wanted to go to Wembley that season. What a tie it would turn out to be – with THAT goal from Troy Deeney.
Cut forward 2 years after the heartbreak of the play-off final against Crystal Palace and The Hornets were promoted to the Premier League for the first time since the 2007/2008 season. The Pozzo family had created something very special at Vicarage Road. Finding players like Vydra, Abdi and Pudil and Angella were some of the key factors as to why Watford are where they are today. Players like Mario Suarez, Nordin Amrabat and Adalberto Peñaranda are proving that Watford can attract foreign talent, and that is all down the great Pozzo family.
The Pozzo’s have also invested heavily into the Vicarage Road facility. In the south-east corner of the stadium now sits a corporate box for the likes of Sky and BT to broadcast games. Previously this was a concrete structure which looked massively out of place. Seats have been added to the Sir Elton John stand that sits opposite to the Graham Taylor stand. In-between the Graham Taylor and Family Stand, a hospitality box has been added. The walkways behind the upper Graham Taylor stand have been re-painted, with banners hanging the length of the stand to show off The Hornets achievements under the management of Graham Taylor. More recently, the family have invested more money into the pitch, which was relayed at the beginning of the season however was looking a little worse for wear during the tough Christmas fixture run.
Whichever way you decide to look at it, you can’t help but admire what the Pozzo family have achieved wherever they have been. Taking over a Granada team was a monstrous task in itself, but to then do it all again with Watford a few years later was really something. From their scouting network, to the way they handle their clubs’ day to day business, Pozzo’s work is something to be admired and should be a benchmark to clubs up and down the country of how to run a football club.