In defence of Watford’s loan system

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March 22, 2013 by joshilan14


When the Italian Pozzo family – who also own Italian club Udinese and La Liga outfit Granada -brought Championship side Watford last summer, it ushered in a new era to the club. Sean Dyche, the man who led the side to their best Championship finish since reaching the play-offs in the 2007-08 season under Aidy Boothroyd, was harshly relieved of his duties as manager. In his place came Gianfranco Zola, the former West Ham United manager and Chelsea legend, who signed a two-year deal with The Hornets.


A change in ownership and manager resulted in a shift in the playing squad. 16 players came in, and 10 departed (only permanent transfers). However, controversy arose around how this came about.


Out of the 16 players signed, a staggering 14 were loanees, 12 from Pozzo owned clubs. Udinese, a club internationally recognised for their extraordinary scouting system, have utilised their system to help their ‘feeder’ sides Granada and Watford.


Under this system, Granada achieved a historic promotion to La Liga. It looks that the same regime could do the same thing for Watford, with them the surprise package in the battle to win promotion to the Premier League.


Whilst they have won many plaudits for their attacking and adventurous system employed by Zola; they have attracted criticism galore for their use of a system previously unseen in England.


Holloway: major user of loan market – as long as they’re British!

Ian Holloway is not a fan of Watford's scheme

Ian Holloway is not a fan of Watford’s scheme

Ian Holloway, the outspoken manager of Crystal Palace has been one of the most sceptical people of the raft of loanees Watford signed. He said after a 2-2 draw away to the Hornets last month: “”We’re only allowed to borrow two from the same team in this country. Unlimited [loanees can be signed from] abroad? That gives a licence to people to buy English clubs, chuck all their players over here and have a reserve team. No arguing – what their manager is doing and how they’re doing it is fantastic. If there’s a loophole, they’ve found it and some of those players are as good as any I’ve seen in the world.”


That is the Ian Holloway, whose Crystal Palace squad contains six loanees (including Wilfried Zaha) and in their match day squad against Watford, had only two less loan players than the side he was slating.


Holloway inadvertently highlights one key thing through his quote. It is legal. Whether it is moral is another thing, but why should Watford be scrutinised for utilising a system, which is both allowed, and a proven success?


Bringing in players on-loan is a fundamental fixture at almost every Football League club. While the majority of these arrangements are temporary, they can help to improve a club’s fortunes and give them an advantage over their opponents. While Watford may have taken this scheme one step further, their basis for signing them is no different to the reasoning of why every other Football League club brings in loanees: that is, simply, to improve the team.


What Cardiff City are doing is far, far worse

Cardiff City have sold their soul for success

Cardiff City have sold their soul for success

Watford are currently in third place in the Championship. The team two places above them in the table is Cardiff City. There is one crucial factor for why they are at the top of the table: money. In the summer and January transfer windows, they spent a staggering £12million on 11 players. This does not take into account the reputedly large wages of some of their players, such as Craig Bellamy’s approximated £30K a week. However, The Bluebirds (or whatever they are now nicknamed), have attracted little criticism for their big-spending ways to secure promotion. While Watford’s ideology was no guaranteed success; Cardiff’s scheme was one designed to purely give them a massive advantage over every other team.


One thing Cardiff were highly scrutinised for in the summer was sacrificing tradition and the history of the club for money. Malaysian owner Vincent Tan changed three entities of the club that were integral to their previous 124 years: the badge changed from blue to red to signify their conversion from their old nickname of The Bluebirds to The Red Dragons, while the shirt colour converted from blue to red. In one year, everything the club once stood for had significantly changed and history and tradition had been abandoned. In Watford’s case, their identity and history remains intact. A total of eight players from their famed youth academy have featured for them this season; while they remain known as The Hornets and play in their yellow shirts.


A long-lasting project

Some people attack the model for its supposed un-sustainability. Many feel that if their key loanees depart, the club will fall apart. This could not be further from the truth. As shown with Granada, the club will continue to be supported and inundated with loan players from Udinese, to help the club progress and ensure stability. Many of Watford’s loan stars – such as defender Joel Ekstrand and striker Matej Vydra – have been linked with signing a permanent deal with the side; while tricky Italian Fernando Forestieri has already removed the loan tag.


Also, many of the loan players have expressed their happiness at the club, with this being elucidated by Czech Republic international Daniel Pudil, who said on Twitter: “All loan players would like to stay in Watford! I love this team, city and supporters!”


With The Hornets flying high in the Championship this season, many people have slammed their achievements for them taking advantage of a legal loophole. This has unfairly deflected from their success on the pitch, with Zola’s side playing some outstanding football. They have also kept one thing that should be at the heart of every football club: their identity. The situation is best summed up by Ipswich Town’s no-nonsense manager Mick McCarthy, who said: “I don’t give a shite what they [Watford] are doing personally. If it is within the rules, it is within the rules. Let them get on with it.”




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Josh Ilan is an aspiring football journalist. He is a long-suffering Barnet fan, and a football lover in general, with a particular passion for the Football League and the Bundesliga.

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