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Watford’s Italian job, far more than loan sharks and Udinese rejects



Whilst the media frenzy that surrounded AFC Bournemouth and the story of how chairman Jeff Mostyn rescued the club from financial ruin in League Two and led them to the Premier League with Eddie Howe at the helm, things were a little more quiet in Hertfordshire.

Of course there was stories on Watford’s promotion, but the focus was more on the manager Slaviša Jokanovi? and his future, with weeks left on his one year deal.

There was much less said about Jokanovi?’s employers, Gino, and his father Giampaolo Pozzo, who had bought the club in June 2012. Despite being a private family, who rarely give interviews, the Italians have been give a rough ride by the press since their arrival, but why seems to be a question left unanswered.

To look at the Pozzo family’s impact, it’s worth looking at what went before. Fans of the Premier League will remember the brief seasons that the Hornets had spent in the top flight in 99/00 and 06/07, the latter after their promotion by defeating Leeds United 3-0 in the 2006 Championship Play-off final at the Millennium Stadium.

Aidy Boothroyd, who was seen as a real managerial hot prospect, had led the club to the top flight on a shoestring budget, spearheaded by Marlon King’s 21 goals. But they just weren’t good enough to stay up, weakened even further in January 2007 when young prodigy Ashley Young was sold to Aston Villa for just £9.5m, and went down with a meagre five wins.

That led to numerous years of scraps of real instability; Watford may have reached the playoffs the season after they were relegated, losing to eventual winners Hull over two legs, but what followed was mediocrity, turnover of talent being sold for less and less, wage bills slashed, all the while under the backdrop of constant boardroom wars.

Enter the Pozzos. June 2012 arrived, and Giampaolo Pozzo bought out the Hertfordshire club, and changes were quick, and unpopular. Out went the highly rated Sean Dyche, who had managed to get the club to its highest position since their playoff finish four seasons before, to be replaced by Chelsea favourite Gianfranco Zola.

More startling was the loan arrivals; 12 players had arrived from the other two main clubs in the Pozzo network, Udinese from Italy and Granada of Spain, whilst Nathaniel Chalobah arrived from Chelsea.

After a poor start, losing seven of the first 13 games under Zola, the team began to gel, and finished third. After overcoming Leicester in a dramatic play-off semi-final, scoring a decisive winner just seconds after Leicester had a penalty save, the Hornets lost out to Crystal Palace at Wembley, with former fans favourite Kevin Phillips (on loan from Blackpool) coming back to haunt them with a penalty in extra time to win 1-0.

It was quite apt that it would be Ian Holloway’s Palace who would triumph over Zola’s Watford in the final, considering the former Blackpool manager was a critic of the system that enabled the club to loan players from Udinese.  Martin Samuel was louder, calling them ‘Serie A Lite’ and saying they didn’t have British names.

Despite the fact that two of the players he said didn’t have British names, Ikechi Anya and Chalobah, grew up in Oxford and South London respectively, the Football League acted, and limited all clubs to four loans from any club, domestic or foreign.

A disappointing 13th finish the following season and those who had barracked the Pozzo regime were quieter (the fact QPR had a wage bill bigger than Champions League finalists Dortmund being far better than those pesky Udinese loans, obviously) but the Hornets rallied back, earning automatic promotion this season by finishing second.

Their detractors will point to the signings of players like Miguel Layun from Mexico and Nigerian Odion Ighalo from Udinese, but Troy Deeney, Anya and Ben Watson played a huge part in promotion: Six of the eleven who played in the promotion clincher at Brighton were British.

So whilst the media will concentrate on Bournemouth and their story, Watford will be allowed to prepare in their own way. The Pozzo family have completed their first mission, and preparations will begin for the second part.

Consolidation will be of main priority, but with Premier League football now on offer at Vicarage Road, the selling points will be much stronger. The Pozzos have made profits of £113.45m in the past five years at Udinese, selling names like Alexis Sanchez and Kwadro Asamoah, and this cleverness in the market will help Watford too.

With Granada in deep relegation trouble, Watford’s return to the top flight will be a timely help for the Pozzo regime. With a £5billion TV deal coming into effect next summer, keeping Watford up will be of real importance for their strategy.

They are much better equipped to stay up this time. Just don’t expect Martin Samuel to be a fan, even if the Pozzos are of far more benefit to Watford than some of their previous owners. Praise should be given to the elusive Italians, but will it? About as likely as Ian Holloway managing Udinese any time soon.


Hadi Sacko’s Mali call-up says more about their national pool than Leeds form

The French youth international will now play for Mali.



Despite Leeds United’s poor recent form plenty of their first-team players have been called up to international duty this week.

Stuart Dallas, Eunan O’Kane and Pontus Jansson will all be playing for their respective nations in the upcoming week. Another player who has received a call-up to a national team is Hadi Sacko.

The 23-year-old winger has received his first call-up to the senior Mali side. It is a switch in allegiance for the wide-man. Sacko has previously featured for France, playing from under-16 level up to under-20.

(Photo by Christopher Lee/Getty Images)

Mali take on Japan in an upcoming friendly, who have incidentally dropped loaned out Leeds United midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi.

For Sacko it is a great opportunity to represent his country but for Leeds United fans the call-up was slightly baffling.

Whites fans will, of course, wish their player all the best with Les Aigles. Yet, it is something of a surprise to see him get such recognition.

Sacko’s form this season has not been impressive. Wasteful in possession and lacking an end product, he has struggled immensely in recent times.

(Photo by Paul Ellis/Getty Images)

Fans have consistently expressed their disappointment at his displays. In fairness, it has been that way for most of his Leeds spell. After initially joining from Bordeaux on loan, Leeds signed Sacko permanently last summer. But his’s tale at Leeds has been one of frustration and inconsistency.

The raw talent is clearly there. Fast, strong and skilfull Sacko has the ingredients to be a success. But it is turning those materials into something tangible which Sacko has struggled with. Garry Monk, Thomas Christiansen and Paul Heckingbottom have so far failed to make Sacko a credible threat.

Hopefully, Sacko can enjoy a debut with his nation next week. But his inclusion in the Mali squad says more for their pool of talent, then it does his current form at Leeds United.

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Once a £1.5m Leeds United target, Anthony Limbombe receives Belgium call-up

The Belgian has been in fine form since joining Club Brugge.



Belgium have one of the most competitive national teams in the world at present. Therefore, making the squad is something of an impressive accolade.

That is certainly the case for Anthony Limbombe. The winger has received his first call-up for the Red Devils after an impressive campaign with Club Brugge.

It comes in the same month as the 23-year-old signed an extension to his deal with the Belgian side. So it is safe to say the Belgian is enjoying a good time at the moment.

Leeds United fans will certainly view the news with a massive hint of regret.

(Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)

Back in 2015 Leeds had earmarked Limbombe as the man to improve their wide areas. The Yorkshire Evening Post reported that Leeds made a £1.5 million bid to bring the Belgian from NEC Nijmegen that summer.

Unfortunately for Leeds, the bid was rejected and they signed Jordan Botaka instead. The YEP reported that Leeds continued to monitor his progress that season, but Limbombe joined Brugge instead. Leeds brought in Hadi Sacko as an alternative.

Since then he has proved to be a revelation. Limbombe has played 27 times for Brugge this season. He has six goals and has been a phenom in the wide positions for Brugge.

Such form has seen his side run away with the Belgian Pro League, finishing the regular campaign 12 points clear of their nearest rivals Anderlecht.

(Photo by Daniel Smith/Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Botaka, who was signed instead, is currently struggling for form at Sint-Truiden. Sacko, who arrived a year later, has yet to establish himself at Elland Road.

Limbombe was a big target for Leeds but after missing out on his services it is unlikely the West Yorkshire club envisaged such a meteoric rise.

Now the 23-year-old will be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku. Perhaps a place in the World Cup squad is also in the offing for the wideman.

Leeds United will no doubt wish they had managed to bring in the player in 2015 or 2016.

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As Tim Erlandsson joins Salford City on loan is his Nottingham Forest career over?

The Swedish stopper is out of contract at Nottingham Forest this summer.



Nottingham Forest goalkeeper Tim Erlandsson has found himself heading out on loan once again this week.

It has been confirmed that the Swedish stopper has made a move to join the Northern League side, famous for being part-owned by several former Manchester United players.

He arrives as the club’s current number one is heading away on international duty with New Zealand. Max Crocombe will be unavailable for two matches this month and Erlandsson will provide cover.

But does the Swede have a chance of making it at Forest in the long-run?

The 21-year-old joined Forest in 2014 from Halmstads in his homeland. The Swedish under-21 international looked a hot prospect when he arrived at the City Ground. However, it is looking increasingly likely that he will not be making it at Forest.

(Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

This season he spent time on loan at Swedish side AFC Eskilstuna. The newly promoted Allsvenskan side did not thrive in his command. They finished bottom of the Swedish league, conceding a grand total of 55 goals in 30 games.

For Erlandsson it was a brutal learning curve.

Now he is back at Forest but finds himself in a long queue of goalkeepers. Jordan Smith started the season as the club’s number one.

Forest, however, snapped up both Costel Pantilimon and Stefanos Kapino in January. If Pantilimon’s deal is made permanent in the summer, it would leave Erlandsson way down the pecking order at the City Ground.


With his contract expiring in the summer the Swedish star will not be short of offers come July. As an under-21 international, who also attended the Olympics with Sweden in the summer, his name will be on the radar for plenty of interested parties.

The move to Salford City may be the last big news regarding Erlandsson whilst he is still a Nottingham Forest owned player.

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