There are three certainties in life: death, taxes, and transfers between Watford and Udinese.
When discussing this symbiotic relationship, it is important to take note of the status of the clubs before and after the Pozzo family’s takeover of Watford. Giampaolo Pozzo has owned Udinese since 1986, whereas Gino Pozzo, Giampaolo’s son, helped save Watford from administration by purchasing the club in 2012. Despite recent relegation, Watford seem to have benefitted more from the clubs’ connection.
The Case of Udinese:
In the 2010/11 season, Udinese finished 4th in the Serie A. The season after, they were all the more impressive and finished 3rd. And then the Pozzo’s bought Watford. But, nevertheless, Udinese had another admirable season during the 2012/13 campaign, as they finished in 5th place. Since then, Udinese’s highest finish in the league has been 12th. That most certainly is not a coincidence.
Udinese’s norm under Giampaolo Pozzo’s ownership consisted of competing with the giants of Italian football, which included fighting for European competition every season. Now, the club finds itself in relegation scraps and lackluster mid-table finishes. Many fans say the main reason for their misgivings of recent years is the fact that too many of their better players go to Watford, and ample reinforcements do not arrive subsequently. In other words, some Udinese fans feel as if Watford has become a parasite to their club.
So, the implications of the Pozzo takeover in Hertfordshire has been harsh to Udinese and their fans. The term “success” is far from the correct word to describe the effect the Pozzo’s purchase of Watford has had on Udinese so far.
The Case of Watford:
When Watford needed a hero to save them from bankruptcy, Gino, with the help of his father, did just that. The haphazard ownership of Laurence Bassini had come to an end. The Hornets were officially safe.
In terms of on the pitch, the Hornets had established themselves, once more, as a mid-table Championship side following their one-year stint in the Premier League during the 2006/2007 season. In Gino Pozzo’s first season as owner, Watford were able to make an improbable trip to the Playoff Final, a journey which included THAT Deeney goal. And, after finishing 13th the season after, Watford were able to finish 2nd, earning automatic promotion, during the 2014/15 season.
From there, Watford spent 5 seasons in the Premier League, as well as made it all the way to the FA Cup Final during the 2018/19 season. Now relegated, Gino Pozzo is in somewhat uncharted territories. But, he has led Watford to the Promised Land once, and there is every reason to believe he can do so again.
The main criticism of Gino Pozzo’s ownership has been the fact that managers always have an axe looming over their head as soon as they sign a contract with the Hornets. Last season alone, Watford had four different managers (one being caretaker Hayden Mullins). In fact, the number of managers Gino Pozzo has sacked since his takeover in 2012 is in the double digits. Some fans loathe this philosophy, while others argue that although it might be unorthodox, it has ultimately brought the club tremendous success.
The reason why the Pozzos have been willing to sacrifice some of Udinese’s success for Watford’s is, albeit unfair to the Udinese faithful, evident and reasonable: money.
Last season, for finishing 13th in the Serie A, Udinese made in the range of 50-55 million pounds from the competition’s prize/broadcasting money. Watford, who finished 19th and got relegated, raked in a sum that is in the region of 100 million pounds (not including parachute payments). The Premier League has seen billions upon billions of dollars pumped into it over the last decade, thus making British clubs competing in the top-flight much more lucrative to own than a club in the top-flight of Italian football.
At the end of the day, football is a business. In most instances, an individual, or consortiums, own a club primarily for the financial benefits. Unfortunately for Udinese fans, success with Watford is much more lucrative than success with Udinese. Financially speaking, the Pozzos are totally justified in their decision to primarily focus on Watford.
Now that Watford have been relegated, perhaps the Pozzos will shift their focus and best efforts toward their top-flight team. Then again, Watford getting promoted would be significantly more profitable, in terms of sheer funds, than Udinese hypothetically shocking the world and winning the Serie A.
The blatant truth is success in England is better for the Pozzos than success in Italy. However, despite Udinese’s decline in the past few years, this connection might finally be yielding positives for them too.
Odion Ighalo. Roberto Pereyra. Gabriele Angella. Matej Vydra. Gerard Deulofeu. These are just a few of the names that have been involved in the 50+ transfers that have taken place between Watford and Udinese in the past decade.
Besides there being a plethora of transfers between the clubs, the Pozzos have been significantly more willing to splash the cash on big-name players for Watford than they have been for Udinese. Ahead of the 2019/20 campaign, Watford spent over 40 million pounds on new players. The season prior, the club’s transfer fees equated to around 25 million pounds. And the season before that, around 60 million pounds.
In the same 3 year span where Watford spent in the region of 125 million pounds in transfer fees, Udinese spent around 70 million pounds. When comparing the ratio of each club’s TV revenue and the ratio of each club’s transfer expenditure, the investments by the Pozzos actually seem fair (credit to Transfermarkt for the transfer sums).
The main reason Udinese hasn’t been able to get out of the bottom half of the table, however, goes down to how they are only able to bring in players who are “good enough,” rather than attracting players who will help them make that step up. And, of course, those special players would cost tens of millions of pounds, and the Pozzos have seemed to reserve 8-figure transfers (except for Udinese’s signing of Rolando Mandragora in 2018) for Watford.
Before promotion in 2015, Watford having many players with a top-flight pedigree from Udinese, or from since-sold-by-the-Pozzos Granada, was a huge boost. The experience of the players coming in from the Pozzo network ultimately helped Watford get promoted.
Neither promotion nor relegation meant the ending of transfers between the clubs. While Watford have brought in Stipe Perica, William Troost-Ekong, and Francisco Sierralta from Udinese in this past transfer window, Udinese have now, in return, gotten top-quality players from Watford, including Ignacio Pussetto, Roberto Pereyra, and most noteworthy of all, Gerard Deulofeu.
The Future of the Relationship
In 2009, Giampaolo Pozzo purchased Granada CF. In 2016, he sold it. Will potential pressure from Udinese fans force the family which has owned them since 1986 to sell their club too? Most likely not. The connection between the two clubs is set to remain intact for the foreseeable future.
But now, for Udinese, things are looking up in this relationship. Roberto Pereyra is a skillful player who has the potential to tremendously help them this season. Gerard Deulofeu, when fully back from injury, which will be sooner than later, will become a star for them. Perhaps most importantly, however, is how the most valuable player on Udinese, Rodrigo De Paul, is still at the club. Leeds United had a bid of over 25 million pounds rejected for De Paul. This shows how the Pozzos were not desperate to cash in on him, which in turn shows how the Pozzos are evidently not treating Udinese as a money-maker for Watford. If anything, relegation will further steer the Pozzos away from sacrificing Udinese’s potential success in order to benefit Watford.
A new balance will be able to take hold now. Watford will seek instant promotion to the Premier League. Udinese will try to at least break back into the top half. Perhaps both happen. Perhaps neither do. But, the Pozzos, through their transfers of the past window, have shown both clubs are their equal priority. Watford will continue to reap the benefits of the connection, and now Udinese will too. The mutualistic ties between the clubs will continue to bring new faces through their respective doors, while an equilibrium is starting to be reached.
Gino Pozzo’s ownership of Watford might be controversial at times, but his ownership is steady, reliable, and the supporters are almost always taken into consideration. Not every club has this luxury. Giampaolo Pozzo’s ownership of Udinese is ultimately the same. The Pozzos have helped both clubs establish a firm foundation in a financially chaotic footballing world. The Pozzos are now in a more perfect position than ever before to help both clubs, equally, build upwards.