‘A demanding perfectionist’: how Gino Pozzo did the unthinkable at Watford

May 17, 2019 Off By readly




At the Maracanã on Wednesday Fluminense found themselves 1-0 down to Cruzeiro in the Copa do Brasil with a few minutes remaining. As they often have since João Pedro made his debut in February they brought on the 17-year-old striker and in the fourth minute of stoppage time, after Matheus Ferraz had knocked down a corner, he turned the ball in. The goal was wildly celebrated in the stands and probably elicited a little fist pump somewhere in Hertfordshire. João Pedro, then 16 and yet to play a senior game, signed for Watford last October, the latest gem unearthed by the Pozzo family’s famous scouting network.

This Saturday is a momentous day for Gino Pozzo and the two clubs he controls but not an entirely happy one. In London Watford will play their first FA Cup final for 35 years, crowning achievement of the impressive transformation he has wrought since buying them in 2012; meanwhile in Friuli Udinese host Spal with their future on the line, two points from the relegation places in Serie A with only one further game remaining.

The contrast between the teams’ fortunes has not gone unnoticed. Udinese fans are not so much jealous as outright furious and have taken to entertaining themselves with choruses of “Chi non salta Gino Pozzo è” – If you’re not jumping, you’re Gino Pozzo. In February, before protesting supporters spent the entirety of the 1-1 draw against Fiorentina in silence, their biggest fans’ association released a statement declaring: “We have supported the team despite repeated sporting failures in recent years but there is a limit to everything. We will not keep being taken for a ride”.

When the Pozzo family, owners of Udinese since 1986, completed their takeover of Watford seven years ago Udinese had just finished third in Serie A, qualifying for the Champions League for the first time. They had been in the top flight since 1995 and finished in the top half of the table in eight of the previous 10 seasons but have done so only once since. “The fans are angry,” says Massimo Meroi, who covers the club for the Messaggero Veneto newspaper. “Originally it was Udinese who were the first priority for the Pozzo family but they have become the second team.”

Watford, meanwhile, were adrift in the Championship and subject to an HMRC winding-up order under the ownership of Laurence Bassini, author of a humiliating recent attempt to buy Bolton, before their takeover.

“I think a large percentage of Watford fans see him as a saviour, because of where we were when he took over,” says Mike Parkin, the co-presenter of the Watford podcast From the Rookery End. “To rescue Watford and then transform the club into what we see today, I’m not sure there’s anyone who isn’t very grateful. Barely a matchday goes past when I don’t think about what would have happened if he hadn’t taken over. He seems to get football and there’s comfort in the fact the family have done so well with Udinese. They seem to be football people who understand Watford, want to take the club in the right direction.”

One of the factors that has fuelled the Udinese fans’ sense of betrayal is Pozzo’s decision to relocate his family to London in 2013. Though he continues to oversee the club’s operation – “He is much closer to Udinese than you think,” says their technical director, Daniel Pradè – he uses Watford’s training ground in London Colney as his base.

At each club he has built a similar, three-man leadership group, comprised of himself, a technical director – Pradè in Udine, Filippo Giraldi at Watford – who oversees the playing squad and its management, while Franco Collavino in Italy and Scott Duxbury in England control the other aspects of the business. But he is intimately involved in all key decisions, including the identification of players and managers. Even when he is not at the training ground, he, Giraldi and Duxbury are said to talk perhaps a dozen times a day.

“He is in effect the sporting director,” says Vincenzo Cardillo, a Germany-based scout for Udinese and Watford. “He decides everything. He has people he trusts in Udine, a management, and he has trusted people in London. Geographically and economically they are completely different worlds. He is a perfectionist, scrupulous, honest, someone who anticipates things before they happen. He is very demanding: if you make mistakes you’re of no use to him – he doesn’t want to waste time.”

Pozzo has little contact with Watford’s players, addressing them perhaps once a year. Several, however, describe relatively close relationships, most eye-catchingly when the Nigerian forward Isaac Success said that “it is like a father and son relationship between me and Gino”. “He’s the boss and we say hello, that’s about it,” Troy Deeney said this week. “He’s here on a weekly basis, so if there is any kind of discussion it’ll be more how you are, how things are going and that’s it.”

Giraldi, who was hired by Pozzo to spend six months in England scouting the two clubs he was thinking of buying – Watford and Crystal Palace – before becoming chief scout and then technical director, spends more time with the squad. It is he who normally communicates his employer’s thoughts on the team’s performances to the manager. “Sometimes there are different opinions but I think it’s good for us,” Javi Gracia says. “It’s the way we can improve. They have to know my opinion, they have to know the way I see my team and my players. They have to know that my point of view in some moments can be different but always in a positive way and thinking about a way to improve.”

Born in 1965, Pozzo was 21 when his father, Giampaolo, bought Udinese and he has worked in football since he left university. In many ways club ownership has seemed to come naturally. For all Udinese’s recent travails the 54-year-old has brought relative success and an approximation of stability to them and Watford but one thing he has so far been unable to deliver is a trophy. On Saturday that may change. But do not expect anyone in Udine to be particularly happy about it.

Source of this (above) article: https://www.theguardian.com/football/2019/may/17/gino-pozzo-watford-owner-fa-cup-final