News, views and gossip from the magnificent 72
Boosted by loanees from abroad, Gianfranco Zola's team is winning and the Pozzo family haven't broken any rules – but Joe Brewin finds sorrow in the borrowing surplus
Crystal Palace manager Ian Holloway wasn’t a happy chappy last week – and surprisingly it had nothing to do with his dubious flat cap and red glove combo.
The Eagles may be soaring in the dizzy heights of the Championship play-offs, but after watching his side nab a draw at fellow promotion hopefuls Watford, Ollie was not the chirpy figure we expected after Palace clawed back a two-goal deficit.
"They've got some world-class players that they've borrowed from almost one club," quipped the animated rent-a-quote. “In this country we can borrow two players from one club. Why can’t it be the same for players from abroad? How simple is that? You ain’t got to be a genius to work that out.”
In fairness he has a point (even if Lionel Messi hasn’t been reduced to a gibbering wreck just yet). Watford are sitting pretty in fourth, a single point ahead of Palace and enjoying a season few believed was possible. But anything goes when a major overhaul rears its head.
When the Pozzo family took the reins at Vicarage Road in the summer, popular manager Sean Dyche was disposed of despite leading the Hornets to a solid 11th-placed finish – their highest since 2007/08, when they had reached the play-offs. Football rolled its eyes and tutted.
The Italians had other plans, luring fun-size favourite Gianfranco Zola to the helm and using their other two clubs, Udinese of Serie A and Granada of la Liga, to revamp Watford’s middling squad.
After taking over the latter in 2009, the Pozzos guided the struggling Spaniards to back-to-back promotions and ended a 35-year run without top-flight football. It is no secret they did that with a steady flow of players from Udinese (and still do, it should be noted).
BORROWING RATES INCREASE SHARPLY
Zola, with little knowledge of the players at his disposal, was little more than a bystander over the summer. In came Manuel Almunia and Fitz Hall on permanent deals, joined on the same day by five loanees from Udinese and Granada: Almen Abdi, Steve Leo Beleck, Matej Vydra, Daniel Pudil and Ikechi Anya.
“How will they ever gel?” we spluttered from the Good Book of Football Clichés.
Over the summer seven more followed, with Udinese’s Marco Cassetti and Alex Geijo joined by five more from the Pozzo empire (Jean-Alain Fanchone, Neuton Piccoli, Lars Ekstrand, Cristian Battocchio, Fernando Forestieri) in a glut on August 31st. Standard Liege’s Geoffrey Mujangi Bia also turned up, with the loanee parade completed by Chelsea midfielder Nathaniel Chalobah.
If you’re keeping up, that’s 14 new faces on temporary deals. For the record, forward Forestieri signed permanently in January, while Fanchone left last month after making one appearance.
Loan stars: Cassetti, Chalobah and Abdi surround Wilfried Zaha
But according to Football League rules, only 18-year-old Chalobah is counted in the Hornets’ loanee quota. Why? Because, despite stating that a maximum of five can be included in a matchday squad, foreign loan deals are counted as transfers and therefore don’t count.
Effectively a team could win promotion to the Premier League with a whole team of loanees at questionable cost. Something just ain’t right.
In Watford’s case it’s unclear as to how much their success can be attributed to careful planning. As Holloway says, “What if Barcelona wanted to buy us and play their 'B' team for us?” We’ll go easy on the fact that Barcelona already have their own ‘B’ team in Spain’s second tier, a nation where such a thing is not just possible but acceptable.
Were those 12 loanees carefully selected for Watford’s cause, or are the Hornets simply Pozzo’s player-production playground? Either way it seems to work. Udinese are regulars in the hunt for Champions League football, Granada are still in the top flight and Watford are thriving.
Much of this is speculative. It took Zola time to find a formula that worked this season (Watford were 16th after 13 games), but after finding out more about his motley crew the Italian has really used only six of his foreign starlets with regularity.
Of those, 20-year-old striker Matej Vydra has proved a sensation. The Czech speedster may have started only 18 league games but his 19 goals have been the catalyst for Watford’s hot streak. Unsurprisingly the Premier League sharks have been circling.
“Got another!” Vydra is embraced by Troy Deeney
Under normal circumstances, Vydra would tip his hat and thank the Hornets for a jolly old season in a sorry-I’m-actually-going-elsewhere-now farewell. After all, them’s the breaks with players whose registration you don’t own.
But the former Banik Ostrava youngster is likely to make his move to Vicarage Road permanent in the summer. The Pozzo family are the kings of this game – and Watford could get their man for a cut price if they wish to flex their muscles. Whether right or wrong, trading players between clubs owned by the same people is legitimate for now – much to the frustration of Ian Holloway, among others.
WHERE WILL THE CHILDREN PLAY?
“I can't believe there's such a massive loophole," sighed Holloway at Vicarage Road. “My question is – where are those English players going to come from?”
On the face of it, he is right to ask – but again, Watford are different. This season the Hornets have stood true to their values of youth production and used seven academy graduates, while the emphatic emergence of powerful England Under-21 midfielder Chalobah has energised their promotion charge. It was he who nodded the opener against Holloway’s Palace.
Nat’s nut: Chalobah scores against Palace
The loan system will always be an important tool for any Football League club, but until the authorities alter its rules it will also be abused. And it isn’t just a case of foreign imports having free license to roam.
How often have we seen clubs pick up players from bloated Premier League squads for a fraction of their wages? Holloway himself tried to lure West Bromwich Albion striker Peter Odemwingie (insert your own joke here) to Selhurst Park in January on the same basis. Cardiff capitalised on it with Craig Bellamy last season; countless others have too.
As a crowning absurdity of the loophole, in January Watford lent their loanee Beleck to Stevenage until the end of the season. Although Udinese own his registration, the youngster is technically on loan from Vicarage Road, with the deal possible because it stretches over two transfer windows.
This is no attack on Watford. After all, they’re only playing by the rules and succeeding. Their fans don’t care, and nor should they. Before the Pozzos, the club was ruled by incompetency; now the Rookery End fans have a football team worth watching again.
But while Watford have done no wrong, Holloway is also right. If clubs are given such liberty to sign players from abroad when the same rules do not apply domestically, it serves only to damage the development of this country’s own crop of kids. It does not, however, look like we will not have to wait much longer for change.
Do you know how much it costs a side to have 'tier 1' status in the new EPPP?
About £2.5m a year. What Championship side can afford that?
Its all very well berating our use of foreign loans, but with the FA now making it prohibitively expensive to have access to the best young British players, what choice do lower division teams have?
We've rejected substantial bids for Tommie Hoban and Sean Murray over the past few years. Under the new scheme, Premiership big hitters can come in and pinch any of our top youngsters for pittance.
So before using the 'foreign players destroying Birtish talent' arguement - think about what the FA is doing to make British talent inaccessible to lower division sides
About the Beleck situation, it is perfectly legal for a Championship side to sign a player on loan from an EPL side and then send him on loan to a League 2 side as long as they have permission from the parent club. That League 2 club could send him to a non-league club as long as they ahve the permission of the Championship and EPL side.
That has nothing to do with international loans as that is a rule within the Football League that to my knowledge has never been used before. Watford are the only club that have been in a position to use that rule because of the Pozzo ownership.
Even if the rules change for next season it would have hardly any effect on Watford especially if promotion is achieved.
The problem with closing all these "loopholes" (which any club is free to use, even Crystal Palace) is that it merely tightens the top clubs' grip on the game. I like the fact that Watford are using a fresh and sustainable business model to improve their standing, without spending more than they have.
If we prevent such alternative models, we end up with the only way of improving a club being to throw vast amounts of money at the problem. Still, that never did Portsmouth any harm, did it?
And can somebody tell me why everyone assumes that the English youngsters will be squeezed out of the game this way? It's almost as if they're not allowed to go to another country to improve, the same way as all our imports do.
In the same way that different styles of play can reach the same goal (Stoke and Arsenal, anyone), w clubs should be able to use different recruitment systems to run themselves
Not sure Holloway IS right. Nothing stopping English players going abroad.
More broadly, as gaz37 implies above the bigger clubs have redefined the playing field (again)in their favour with EPPP. Old model Watford was a tough ask anyway, much harder given the changes this invokes in terms of developing our own players.
It's also technically correct but slightly misleading to emphasise "borrowed from Udinese". Udinese holds the registration of a huge school of players brought in by the Pozzos' scouting network. It's a matter of convenience that they're registered in Italy - witness Marco Cassetti, 35, released by Roma, signed by Udinese, loaned straight to Watford. Technically a Udinese player but will never play for them.
Should the League change the rules to limit "international loans" the players will simply be transferred in a way that preserves the existing arrangement (i.e. clauses invoking a return transfer after 12 months). They won't be able to apply restraint of trade by banning transfers between the clubs. Even limiting international loans is a big ask given that there's technically no such thing.
Matt has covered most of it. All I'd add is that Watford's owners own all the Watford players' contracts apart from Chalobah & Mujangi Bia. How does it affect anything which company they use to hold those registrations?
Plenty of clubs have gone down the route of spending money to bring in players they hope will be better, which is what seem to upset Mr Holloway.
Surely the Watford model is far healthier in that the owners spend their money on a wide scouting network and player development. This has left room for Watford's academy products to have their chance and several have been signed on long term contracts since the Pozzos arrived.
The only issue I can see is what happens if/when two clubs under the same ownership meet each other in European competition, but I think we're still some way away from that in Watford's case! And the same applies to any two clubs with a relationship.
It would be great if you could come back on the points raised in these responses, Joe.
Hi Druid, of course.
Like I said, the article is by no means an attack on Watford or their policies and more about the flawed loan system which seems unfair to me.
I am in no way berating the use of foreign loans - far from it. All I would like to see is a consistent application of the rules; matching the domestic ones we already have. The fact a team can compete (and subsequently win promotion) with a team of players they don't hold any registrations for just doesn't seem right to me.
Of course more of our young players could ply their trade abroad but few do and that isn't really the argument here. I see no issue in taking (fair) measures to help arrange your own house in order first and foremost.
But as stated, this is just one issue with what I believe to be a system with more than one hole in it.
With regards to bowzer's point, it is news to me and I cannot find such a thing in the Football League's loan rules. It may be true but I was under the impression that Beleck's deal of that nature was allowed due to his status as a short-term international transfer.
MattR - Yes, a club in Watford's situation could find loopholes if the rules were to change. Cassetti is a case in point. But their situation is different because of the Pozzos' ability to move pawns between the three clubs at will. That may not apply to other clubs looking to employ a similar system.
Watford's case is particularly fascinating because they have undergone major change under new ownership, yet retained their admirable youth policy and reaped their success. I am pleased they are being run efficiently after the hardships that previously ran them down.
I am by no means a xenophobe towards them-what-take-all-our-jobs but the development of Chalobah this season (a player I saw breaking through at reserve level just last season) has been particularly warming. Levelling the playing field can only provide an environment suitable for more of the same.
There's just something with the situation that doesn't sit right with me. But hey, life would be boring if we all sung from the same hymn sheet. I've had numerous positive comments from Hornets today too, so I guess it works both ways!
What the Pozzo's have done with the club has most certainly upset the status quo.
The default plan for getting promotion in the Championship is:
1) Buy ridiculously overpriced British players, and make sure you give them a mint in wages.
2) Go massively over budget, because you'll be in the Premiership next year, so it won't matter.
The Pozzo method;
1) Use extensive scouting network to buy young talent on the cheap.
2) Stay under budget
Our current success with this particular method has left the rest of the division green with envy, which has led to the ridiculous comments about us 'killing English football' with our use of foreign players.
Doyley, Nosworthy, Eustace, Smith, Hodson, Thompson, Murray, Bond, Hoban, Chalobah, Deeney and Hogg have all had a part to play this year. Its worth remembering that Dyche used far less youngsters last season compared to Zola.
The frustrations with the loan system isn't our problem. The Pozzo's are wily old hands in Football, and they used the laws available to them. It allowed us to essentially give the players a trial year to see how adaptable they are to the English game.
A quick comment on EPPP. Actually, not from me, but from Aaron Cox: fourfourtwo.com/.../why-premier-league-greed-will-kill-the-football-league-160-and-england.aspx
– Gary Parkinson, FourFourTwo.com Editor
The comment that this method will 'kill British talent' is very short-sighted in my view. One of the reasons that they bought into an English club is to have easier access to that same talent pool. As other comments rightly said very few British talents leave for foreign clubs so there was limited use for scouting in Britain. Now however they will buy them through Watford. Mark my words, Watford will not buy any players at an 'English Premium' but in the next 5 years they will sell plenty of players at an 'English Premium'
There are alot of very jealous, pathetic indeviduals making comments about Watford at the moment, and it appears our good season is the only reason!! ANY club could do what we have, maybe not from one club but nothing stopping Holloway from say loaning 3 players from PSG, Roma and Ajax is there?
There are so many clubs in the championship who are in huge debt and have it written off at the end of the season...how is that fair to Watford when we have had some of the lowest player budgets for 2/3 seasons?? If Watford are bad for the game, what about Man city? Have they even got a youth programme? The premier league and there self serving new laws are killing the game...not Watford. Also is it fair that Holloway can sell a player for £15 million and still play him??i would say no, he could of signed another load of players with the money and still benefited from having the "sold" player!! Anyway im off to blame little old Watford for everything wrong with the game and not look at the huge debts other clubs incur trying to reach the promised land
It's not just Watford ruining football...
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