After initial excitement, there are definitely more than a few reservations about the Pozzo family’s blueprint for the club
“The Academy is close to the heartbeat of the club and this will continue to be very important to Watford`s future progress,” the statement read. That was July 3, just 51 days ago yet it already feels like a lifetime.
The Pozzo family have yet to address the Hornet`s supporters since, and whilst that in itself is not a problem, indeed it`s their style as Granada and Udinese correspondents observe, all the indications are that the club`s owners will very much go back on that statement.
Of course last week brought the news that the club would not go for EPPP Category One status, and would instead settle for Category Three, a decision which prohibits the club from signing players up for their academy system before a certain age as well as restricting the fee another club would have to pay to sign an academy player. The decision also cost Watford their participation in the brand-new U21 league against stellar opposition.
Speculation is now growing that Watford`s pioneering link-up with the Harefield Academy, a project which has drawn interest from a number of big European clubs, is set to end as well. The Watford Observer revealed on Tuesday that the club had refused to comment on whether or not the partnership would be scrapped, and whilst there is nothing more than speculation fuelling the fire at the moment, it is a little unnerving.
Category One status academies need to be able to commit a minimum of £2.3m per annum to the running of the academy set up. For Category Two, that figure is £1.5m, and for Category Three and the Hornets, just £500,000 is needed. At present, and going on The Watford Observer`s figures, Watford spent between £1.3m and £1.6m per annum on the Harefield Academy partnership.
The partnership has of course yielded enormous success. Connor Smith`s debut at Crystal Palace saw the Irishman become the 51st academy graduate of the club after Britt Assombalonga broke the 50 barrier last term.
Boss Gianfranco Zola maintains that homegrown players will continue to play a big part in his side going forward, so long as they`re good enough.
He told The Watford Observer: “I have said a few times that there is always places in my squad for good young players from our Academy. “I have said a few times that there is always places in my squad for good young players from our Academy.
“Watford has a great reputation for youth development. I would say that it is here, more than any other club in the league, where the path from the Academy into the first-team squad is the shortest.”
However, despite the assurances of both the manager and the owners, Watford have continued to stockpile Udinese and Granada players today with the season-long loan capture of Marco Cassetti from Udinese. Released at the end of his contract by Roma this summer, the former Italy international signed for the Zebrette without making an appearance before being moved to WD18 on loan. Cassetti brings the number of Pozzo family loanees up to seven now, with Udinese`s young Brazilian defender Neuton still being linked.
There has always been a large number of players being moved between both Granada and Udinese and it is an extremely cost effective and prudent way of running the three clubs, which is of course the crux of the issue. Whilst the Pozzo`s foot each club`s wage bill, they might as well get the best possible value from each player by moving them to where they will be best utilised. As Laurence Bassini shrewdly pointed out before his departure from the club, ‘the Pozzo family have over 100 players to choose from.` Whilst his observation might have displayed his lack of grasp on football, it has since proven to be extremely accurate with the seven loanees arriving.
Watford have relied on loanees for years now. The impact of players such as Ben Foster and Tom Cleverley recorded in the history books as they collected the club`s ‘Player of the Season` award during season-long loans at the Vic`. However, in more affluent times the hope for many might well have been to see a few more permanent additions to build some sort of affinity with.
However, that said, some of the current crop could be around for a while still if history is anything to go by. Alex Geijo spent two years at Granada before moving here, whilst Cameroonian right-sided player Allan Nyom has been on-loan at the Andalusian club since 2009 now, racking up over 100 appearances for the club.
This is a model which has clearly worked for both Udinese and Granada, and now Watford are privileged enough to become members of the Pozzo`s ‘common market`. It is a cost effective method of signing players and one imagines that Zola will not just be handed these players and told to get on with it, but that he will be given the final say on whether or not he wants them.
As the boys on the From the Rookery End Podcast suggested in this month`s addition, the Premier League is the biggest shopwindow in the world, and when Watford have been promoted under the Pozzo`s, suddenly they`ll become the biggest club of the three and we`ll be the biggest shop window of the three. Whether that means we`ll revert from loaning players in from Udinese and Granada to selling off our players at a profit because they`re being taken notice of, as is the Pozzo blueprint, or whether we`ll be loaning out 20 players a season that we don`t currently need, will not be seen for a while yet.
The immediate concern is that Watford have shot themselves in the foot by effectively ceasing operations on their home-grown talent line. How true that is also remains to be seen, but if the Pozzo family do grind the alliance with the Harefield Academy to a halt, it will be a real shame.
It`s certainly going to take some getting used to, this model…