Having lost only twice after 12 games, the Watford FC Hornets, once approaching has-been-squad status, have valiantly risen to eighth place in the Premier League, and made it to the quarterfinals of the FA Cup.
The club’s spot-on appointment of Head Coach and Manager, Javi Gracia, who was associated with Seville at the start of the season, is definitely a factor. Gracia earned nationwide acclaim in Spain after leading Malaga to two successive 10-0 victories at a time when the club’s budget had been slashed following their arrival at the Uefa Champions League quarter-finals in 2013.
A former midfielder who played some 430 games primarily in the Primera Liga for clubs such as Real Sociedad and Villarreal, Gracia has earned the trust and loyalty of his players and fosters a unified team spirit among the squad.
“All the players are pulling in the same direction and helping each other,” notes Gracia, in pointing out the spirit of cooperation among players. “We are competing in all the games and, with this ambition, I am sure we can achieve something different this season.”
While Gracia won’t say what position he expects Watford to be in at season’s end, he has faith in his team, and insists that even a drop to 15th place would not make him doubt the excellence of his squad. In fact, Gracia is certain that Watford is set upon a new and successful course after their recent 5-1 victory over Cardiff marked their biggest season win.
And the Hornets are giving it their all: while Watford had never before finished in the top-half of the Premier League, holding tight at eighth would still make this their most successful season since 1983.
Serendipitously, Watford’s rising star couldn’t have come at a better time, given Premier League’s recent negotiation of a major £8.3 billion television contract.
Watford chair Scott Duxbury recently confirmed that the Hornets’ former owner and chair, Sir Elton John, provides near-daily text recommendations for future signings, though not always are these recommendations put into effect.
The 71-year-old music legend owned the club back in the 1970s and 90s when the Hornets made the leap from a fourth-tier squad to the first division. Appointed as honorary life-President of Watford, Sir Elton apparently remains heavily involved with the club, but the club’s current success must actually be attributed to the leadership model of present owner Gino Pozzo, a member of one of the most interesting families in the sports industry.
Gino Pozzo and the Pozzo Model
In 2009, Giampoalo led the family’s foray into the sporting industry though the acquisition of Spanish club Granada, which the Pozzo family later sold to Link International Sports, a Chinese company, for some €37M in 2016.
In June 2012, Gino and his father arrived in England and acquired Watford Football Club from then-owner Laurence Bassini. This acquisition took place within three years after the club had found itself on the brink of administration, with the fading memories of their glory days under the leadership of Sir Elton John and Graham Taylor now behind them.
The Pozzos invested heavily in Watford F.C., and their strategy included the transferring of several players to and from their other teams, Granada CF and Udinese Calcio.
Currently, Gino is Watford Football Club’s legal owner in England, and is also the club’s managing director, having acquired the club from his father. A resident of Watford, Gino Pozzo is said to be heavily involved in the Hornets’ daily operations, as well as negotiating transfers of players between Watford and his father’s football club Udinese Calcio in Italy.
The acquistion of various clubs in disparate countries has broadened the scale and scope of the Pozzos’ business model. By having a larger scouting network, the company can cover more ground, and ultimately make more strategic moves, moves that often involve actually moving players between different teams.
The Pozzo model, which prompted the signing of 14 players on loan to their two other clubs, Udinese and Granada, provoked a controversy and prompted a historic change to the Football League’s rules in the summer of 2013, just after Watford had made it to the play-off final in their first season under Pozzo family ownership.
While the Pozzos have made a mark in the international sports arena as the first family to simultaneously own top-flight clubs in Italy, Spain, and England, the family is a minor league player in relation to the net worth of several billionaires playing behind the scenes in the Premier League.
The fact that Gino Pozzo has managed to lead the Hornets from lower-lever Championship contenders to one of the country’s top 10 teams in only four short years is impressive.
Overall, it looks like the combination of Pozzo’s entrepreneurial savvy and Javi Gracia’s morale-building approach to a unified squad may mean more victory celebrations ahead for Watford fans.