Ever since the Pozzos purchased Watford in the summer of 2012, the Hornets’ fortunes have changed dramatically. After spending five seasons in the Championship following their relegation from the Premier League, where they had only stayed in for one season, it took the new hierarchy just three more years to return Watford to the Promised Land. This time, it took the Hornets five years to get relegated, and the return to the Championship, of course, was brief. But, since the Pozzo takeover of Watford, has the transfer cash flow been applaudable?
Disclaimer: the fees used are based on data from transfermarkt.co.uk. The final numbers do not include some of the potential/unknown performance-based add-ons to transfers. Wages are also not included in the figures: this article simply analyzes initial transfer fees.
Pre-2015 Promotion Transfer Flow
In the Pozzos’ first two seasons of ownership, before Gino Pozzo took sole control in 2014, the Hornets did not spend any money on transfer fees. Free transfers and loan deals were the calling at Vicarage Road. In the 2012/13 season, Watford made £3.6 million from departures, with most of that figure coming from the sale of Adrian Mariappa. The following season, Watford sold Britt Assombalonga and others for a total sum of £1.9 million.
In the 2014/15 season, the Hornets had their first campaign under the new ownership with a negative transfer flow. The £7.2 million arrival of Odion Ighalo from Udinese signaled a serious intention of getting promoted. By the point of promotion, the Pozzo ownership spent £8.1 million on transfers and recouped £6 million from outgoings. Across three seasons, with the final ending in a more-than-lucrative promotion, a net transfer spend of £2.1 million is fantastic business.
Five-Year Premier League Stay Saw Substantial Spending
Before diving into the transfer spending from Gino’s first Premier League stay with Watford, it must be recalled a reasonable transfer deficit does not signal poor business considering how much revenue being in the Premier League makes. For example, between the Hornets’ 2018/19 and 2019/20 campaigns alone, they made around £212 million from TV revenue. So, a transfer deficit is not alarming/does not necessarily signal poor money management in the slightest.
The Hornets’ first season after a nine-year absence from the top flight saw them have their largest-ever transfer deficit. They spent £74.5 million across 12 players, including the likes of Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure (with even more players coming in on free transfers). Only £8.8 million was regained via sales.
First-year safety set the stage for an elongated Premier League stay. In the 2016/17 campaign, Watford spent £63.4 million on arrivals, including club-record fees for Isaac Success (£13.5 million) and Roberto Pereyra (£12.2 million). The Hornets received £52.3 million from player sales, with over half of that figure coming from the departures of Ighalo and Matej Vydra.
The 2017/18 window once again saw Watford in a transfer deficit, spending £66.1 million on transfer fees, including the £18.4 million arrival of Andre Gray and £11.2 million signing of Richarlison. £16.9 million was recouped through selling players.
The 2018/19 campaign saw the tides switch, as the Hornets had a substantial transfer profit ahead of their second-best season in Club history. Watford spent £27.1 million on arrivals, with Gerard Deulofeu bought permanently for £11.7 million and Masina for £4.5 million. The £35.3 million departure of Richarlison and £11.4 million in sales of other players saw Watford profit £19.6 million.
The Hornets’ relegation season came after the Hornets spent £43.7 million on transfers, including the record-breaking £27 million arrival of Ismaila Sarr. The £18 million departure of Dodi Lukebakio spearheaded the Hornets’ £22.9 million in transfer sales.
Post-Relegation Transfer Window
Amidst the financial struggles caused by COVID-19 and relegation, the Hornets did not spend a penny on incoming players. However, £45.5 million was earned through the sales of players such as Doucoure, Pervis Estupinan, Luis Javier Suarez, and more. Through the sales, Watford were put in a safe-enough position to not being forced into selling Sarr. His remaining at Vicarage Road played a key role in the Hornets’ promotion. Selling him, in the short term, would have relieved immediate financial worries. Keeping him, however, has proven the more-than-shrewd financial choice through the economics of promotion and his ever-rising transfer value.
Overall Net Transfer Spend Since the Pozzo Takeover
With this season’s transfer window a couple of weeks away from closing, it is hard to tell what the Hornets’ total transfer spend/profit will be. One thing is for certain: the Hornets have learned their lesson and will be reluctant to operate under a significant transfer deficit. So, the figure below, as pieces are still moving, does not include 2021/22 transfer spending/profits.
From the Pozzo takeover of Watford through the Club’s second-promotion campaign under Italian ownership, the Hornets have had a net transfer-fee spend of £83.8 million. Considering the time that spend has come across, including five Premier League seasons and a sixth just starting, it is safe to say, even considering the questionable transfer sums spent on players such as Gray and Success, that, so far, Watford’s money has been wisely handled by Gino and Co.