It seems like forever since the Pozzos blew in with the summer wind, bringing with them a new vision for our lovely little club, can you believe it’s only been four months? Yesterday evening (01.11.12) saw the first Fans Forum held by the new management team, and covered a lot of bases, from the technicalities behind all those loans, to the price of cups of tea, to media semantics – CALL IT A ****ING PLAN, YEAH?
Summaries are available elsewhere, so we at ITWM thought ‘why wouldn’t you want an abridged version, with all of the irrelevant stuff taken out, when you can read everything that was said in long, arduous detail?’ Don’t say we’re not good to you…
GN = Gianluca Nani – Technical Director
SD = Scott Duxbury – Chief Executive Officer
JE = John Eustace – Club Captain
GZ = Gianfranco Zola – Head Coach
First half – Off-field Matters
What was your biggest surprise coming to Watford?
SD: The biggest surprise to me, I was speaking to the Watford Observer this morning about the three months here and the biggest surprise to me was just how much of a family club it is. I think lots of clubs say they are a family club but this one really is. I think the turning point for me was the open day. It was remarkable, absolutely remarkable. Families, young children, the amount of people that were there, that really demonstrated to me what the core values of this football club are. We’re doing lots of restructuring, we’re moving the football club forward but we will never forget the core values. And we want to be successful, we want to be ambitious, but not to the detriment of what is a family club and it was a surprise to me just how important, how much of a family club this is and it was so clear to see on the open day that it was nothing short of remarkable.
GN: I agree with Scott, I had never seen anything like that in my life. The other point that really surprised me was the level of the young players in the academy and the quality of the staff in the academy. I had a really good impression about that, I am really proud to work with these players and the staff. And I think we have a good future from that.
If I may say, very respectfully, I think the circumstances in which Sean Dyche lost his job were pretty apalling. I think there’ll be a lot of people here who think the same and wish him well in his new position at Burnley… How do you manage loan players, and problem faced if the parent club wants decides to recall them? I see it at the moment as a subsidiary company and a parent company. And I don’t think there’s an identity present in the club.
GZ: When I took this job, one of first things I was told is that this club is considered as one of clubs where it’s going to become one of the top, leading clubs for the company itself. The Pozzo Family at the present owns Udinese, Granada and I believe also Cadiz [ITWM: not since last summer]. The importance of this country football wise is huge. We have a lot of loan players at the moment, but they are players that belong to Watford, and if we believe they are good enough for Watford they will stay. That is just the point. If they’re not good enough, then they will go somewhere else. I am here not because I want to spend my life, with all due respect, in this Championship, which is a very very high level Championship; I am an ambitious manager, in a way, because I want to play at a high level. I believe that a lot of players at my club share in that ambition and that’s where we are going to. I believe the Pozzo family has no interest in Watford playing for a long time in this Championship. We will see what happens…
SD: These aren’t normal loan players in the true sense of the word. As Gianfranco said, they belong as part of a group. These are players that passionately chose to play for this football club, and they want to play long term. It’s just a matter of practicalities. Coming into the club very late, Gino has gone on record saying that he wanted to give Gianfranco as big a pool as possible with the window closing, but the players that came, it was their choice. And if it works out and they want to stay we will make them permanent, we have options on all of them; it was purely a technicality to get them in as the window was closing. Never forget, and I think the game against Charlton away showed the passion. These players want to be here. They’re not mercenaries. They want to stay, they are Watford players, and I agree with you, the ideal squad should be smaller – 25/26 – and next season, that is where we will be. But all of the players we want to stay will stay.
GZ: Just to finish, the second part of the question was about how can I handle it. Certainly it’s not easy, because obviously to get 39 players training together is difficult and it would be an impossible job if I didn’t have a wonderful bunch of players. And regarding what you said about Sean Dyche, I’m very pleased he’s got a job. As I was saying to… er… the skipper (laughter)… when I’m giving a speech I get too into it, I forget names.
JE: But Gaffer… I’m the captain.
GZ: My apologies. But, yes, that’s what makes a big difference. I have a wonderful bunch of players. It comes to the day before a match where I can only train with 20 players, therefore I have to send 7/8 players on their own. I’ve never had complaints. I can tell you, with other players it would be such a difficult thing because the players would be complaining. It’s their right to train along with the others but sometimes it’s difficult. But they understand it and it makes the job very easy. A lot of this is down to the previous manager who has done a great job in creating a good atmosphere. And that atmosphere is still here, because of the work of everybody, especially John. I am very grateful for that.
GN: We were in quite late, a couple of months later than in our original plan, that was the only way to build a competitive team. With the salary we could play. I understand that we put Gianfranco in a difficult situation. But, like he said, the professionality and quality of the players in unbelievable. And John, don’t worry , he calls me a different name every time!
About the debts left by previous regime. How are these being handled? How will it affect the club going forward?
SD: The accounts will be published towards the end of November. The record will be there for all to see. The debt we were aware of. The debt we are managing. What we said at the start, our aim is to establish a business plan that makes the club self sufficient as quickly as possible. The previous business plan covered significant losses through player trading. We don’t want to do that, we want to keep the players, remain competitive, and we think the best platform to get to the Premier League with no timescale being put upon it is to become a sustainable Championship club. So we are reducing the debt and we are getting to a position to break even. That will take many years, but with the new business plan and initiatives we are moving the club in the right direction.
The pitch. We have been encouraged by way the club is trying to evolve regarding play on the pitch. Impressed with way the club is moving forward. Teams come to Vicarage Road to stop Watford playing. Regarding Saracens, I have heard conflicting reports. Gianfranco would surely be very disappointed if the team played Saturday after Saracens. Are they going to be using pitch this season?
SD: They have five games and then that’s it. The contract won’t be renewed and nobody will be using the pitch other than Gianfranco. Five games.
One sees a lot in press about “the project”, “the Watford Project”, “Project Watford”. Many of my friends don’t like that term. It’s Watford Football Club. We have a plan, that’s good, but most clubs in league have a plan. We’re all behind you dream, our dream, of being in Premier League again… (five minutes later)… My request is to stop saying project again. The press distort these things. Projects can be thrown away, projects can be abandoned. We don’t want to be the plaything of a mad Italian…
What’s your question?
There’s not a question. The question is: let’s talk about the plan for the future.
SD: I understand that. Project is a cold term. It describes the business plan, how we’re trying to do something a bit different, whilst, as I say, trying to retain the heart and soul of the club. But I do agree that the word project is cold, and I will try and use the word plan in future.
GN: As I said at the beginning my English isn’t so good. I don’t know if I’ve used this term but I promise I will try to not use!
Gianfranco said Watford might be bigger members of Pozzo group. Scott said he wants attendances of 15,000. How achievable does he think that is, and in what timeframe?
SD: I think it’s achievable quite quickly. The game against Peterborough showed that. There is the fanbase. It’s a combination of getting the price point right and making sure we’re not pricing people out of attending games. Season Tickets will always be cheapest way of attending games but I do understand that some families, some individuals can’t commit to a full season. So we need to come up with price point that attracts, and ultimately be an attractive prospect to come and watch. If we get those two things right then we could get to 15,000 quite quickly. Playing attractive football and being competitively priced, I can’t see any reason why we won’t get to it quickly.
GZ: As everything, we want to do something. We want to make it interesting for people to come and watch us. We are working hard to make sure what we do on the pitch is enjoyable for everybody but also gets us points, and then we will see what the response is going to be. I dunno if it’s going to be 15,000, 12,000, 18 or 10, from us you are going to see maximum effort that for those who come what you see is satisfactory.
How key is pricing for football clubs, most think it’s too expensive full stop. How easy is it just to drop prices?
SD: Pricing is key. When we did the family promotion for Peterborough you saw how the attendance increased. Unfortunately we can’t sustain that price point for every game. There has to be a bridging. That’s what we’re trying with the family 40, the £19 against Millwall. We’re just seeing if there’s a price plan that works to attract people back. If it works then we’ll stick with that. We’ll find a solution that attracts those… there’s 2-3000 fans that are price sensitive, that can’t commit to a full season. A combination of the two factors will get them back. That’s the plan.
Are the club planning to move family area away from next to the away fans and into the Rookery or Rous stands?
SD: Yes, what I’d like to do next season is move the Family stand to the Lower Rous and have a look at offering unreserved seating and cash turnstiles. I think there’s a demand for that in Vicarage Road stand. From start of next season.
We have a number of players out on loan. Can we expect some to be going on a permanent basis? And on the other side, the transfer window in January: do we expect to see more new faces? Loans or money?
GN: Basically, we have just one loan player: Nathaniel Chalobah. Bia is a loan with option to buy. All others are, honestly, our players. That’s the second part. First part is to reduce the squad. At the moment we are about 39/40. We have sent some players on loan, unfortunately some have got injured. But every session Gianfranco has to work with 38/39, that is quite a big squad. Our idea is to reduce the squad and if we can to improve, listening to suggestion of coach… Gianfranco – I know your name. But, honestly I don’t see problem with loan players. Vydra, Forestieri, Abdi can stay whole life in Watford if they’re happy with that.
GZ: The players that are on loan now, our players: Carl Dickinson, Craig Forsyth, Britt Assombalonga, some others. The point is, working with 29/30 with a little bit of fantasy you can get all of them training. A player cannot, training is only one part of it. If you don’t get a game, something is missing. And that’s what really concerns me. They are there training every day for something, but because of all of the players they are not getting the something they are looking for. Therefore it is better what we are doing, sending players away so that they can play. We are going to be looking for them, assessing them and then we see how the situation develops. This is not about me, about John, about Scott, or about…
GZ: it is about Watford Football Club. It might sound cruel, trust me, for me it is the most painful part. At the end of the day what we are doing here is for the best for the club. At the end of the day if they are good enough to play for the club, they will, but we want to take this club forward, and we’re going to do it respecting every single player but also the interests of the club going forward.
You talked earlier about how it was a great family club, talking about youth. The academy. It’s nationally known as one of the better academies going. Since you’ve taken over, you’ve talked about future. Then it was downgraded. What is future of academy, and the thinking behind dropping down these leagues?
SD: The academy is central to our future and our development. The one thing I would take slight exception to is that we haven’t downgraded. We never had Category 1. What we had was Harefield. In my opinion, the EPPP model is based upon what Watford has been doing with Harefield. To achieve Category 1, which is effectively a certificate from the Premier League there was huge expenditure of close to £2 million that you had to comply with to get Category 1 status. Financially we couldn’t afford that – it would increase our operating losses and we’re trying to create a viable self sufficient football club. Decisions had to be made that we don’t think will have an adverse impact on our academy. Our point of difference was Harefield, and it’s so imperative that we focus on Harefield andthat we focus on getting best young talent, putting them through Harefield and showing they have a chance of getting first team football. The five year contracts we’ve offered to the three boys, who are actually playing in the first team, is the best sign that the academy is key to our development. If in future we can go for Category 1 and we think that certificate is important to us we can apply for it. We can try to do more: giving the players five year contracts, playing them in fist team; I think the academy is in safe hands and will be central to our development.
GN: Giving five year contracts to young players and putting them in team is best way of showing we put trust in young players. Other players in the academy will soon have extensions on their contracts. Not many English clubs do five year deals with young boys, and we are showing we trust them. At moment, Tommie Hoban, Connor Smith, Sean Murray are playing in first team when they are within age to play in u21, or even u18. We are really proud of the job the academy did in past, and we want to follow in that way.
The club planned to move the dugout to Lower Rous in recent years. Is this still the plan, and if so, what’s the timetable?
SD: Yep, that’s still the plan. We’re in advanced discussions with our partner, who for now would rather remain anonymous. Very very advanced talks. We would like to conclude talks by November, the beginning of December, with work starting January, with it being available for June/July. That would include moving the changing rooms and hospitality too. That’s our plan for this year, and we’re close to concluding those contracts.
SD: Priorities are the South West corner. Let’s get the changing room over there. Get 15,000 fans and then move onto the East Stand.
Do we get to move aswell, in the press?
SD: No (laughter).
Thanks for doing this so early in your regime. We’ve talked about 20-plus new players, but you should be congratulated on signing Troy Deeney. One of best decisions so far as far as I’m concerned. What he does for young players and fans shows he made a genuine mistake. Second, I don’t agree with getting 15,000 before the new stand. I know its cash and money and you’ve got your project, but if you want to put your legacy on the club, build that stand. Please.
SD: I fully understand, but I don’t want to make promises that we can’t keep like previous regimes may have. The South West corner is the priority. We absolutely do want to build it .We will build it, it’s just a matter of when. But we need to prioritise, invest in the team, stabilise the club, develop the South West corner and then we can move on. But we will do it.
I went to Cardiff and Blackburn. I got to Cardiff and had to pay £32 to get in because of dynamic pricing. It was advertised as £19,what do you think about that?
SD: The philosophy of dynamic pricing is to encourage to buy early. If you buy early it is supposedly heavily discounted, if you don’t and buy on the day, you’re going to be effectively penalised. It’s not something I believe in, but we can’t control away pricing. That’s the downside of dynamic pricing. Cardiff are trialling it for the first time this year. How it turns out, only time will tell.
I’d like to congratulate the team on project/plan. The football is getting more exciting. Replicating the Birmingham game would be good. My question for off the field is why? Why did you choose Watford? What drew you and the Pozzo family?
SD: We could spend hours discussing this, as we did with Gino. But very very simply: Gino’s philosophy is taking clubs with a strong community heart that haven’t realised their potential yet, to achieve something spectacular without sacrificing identity. Watford ticked all the boxes. London is sore subject by geography played a big part. Commercially, being on doorstep of London was also compelling. Ironically, the East Stand was a positive. It’s such an obvious way to improve and for the potential to add value, to add something to the football club. He’s not interested in taking an established football club, that was in the Premier League, where he can add very little of real value whereas here the Pozzos can add something of a true legacy and true value to club.
What do you think of Martin Samuel? (laughter)
SD: Who? Listen, I just take it that it doesn’t matter what press were getting: we’re being covered in a major national newspaper. They can have their opinions – nothing will detract us from the work that we’re doing. If we’re getting national coverage it means were getting noticed and that’s no bad thing.
The last couple of seasons I’ve been very close to committing to a Season Ticket but I’ve been put off by the club allocating the next best seat in the idea of the ticket office. Would you consider more flexibility with that? Also, for London commuters, who can’t always get out of office for Tuesday evening matches, would you consider Saturday-only season tickets?
SD: I’ve had a few emails from supporters following on from my interview where I said I want to get to 15,000. I’d like to create small focus groups to discuss these ideas. Because I think the unreserved seating, the cash turnstiles is one way to increase attendances. Within reason I’m prepared to consider everything to try and get the attendances back. The best way is to create focus groups and come up with viable products that will work for people, so absolutely, we’re not closed to any ideas.
What impact has the developments of the hospital and health campus had on the business plan?
SD: Potentially, it could be fundamental. Effectively, the town centre will shift towards the football club, the front of the stadium will effectively flip. We could have on-site car parking for first time. So, it could be huge to the football club. So, we’re making sure we’re in the discussions and are party to all relevant decision making, and as-and-when the development occurs and the various phases are implemented, rest assured the football club will be in prime position to take advantage. It could be really beneficial for the football club.
Would Premier League status have any bearing on the development of the East Stand?
SD: It would, because attendances would naturally increase by virtue. So there would be a justification for building it. There is no timescale. Our priority is to make viable, progressive Championship football club because that gives us the best platform to go for the Premier League. The whole business plan, our whole work ethos, is to make this a successful Championship football club, and we’ll see where that takes us.
My question is about the roles that Gianluca and Gianfranco have and what the technical director and the head coach does, as we’re used to just having a manager here?
GZ: We fight every time!
GN: First, we trust each other a lot. I think Gianfranco is a great great coach. We were working together in West Ham. He did really well, we had same idea of football. He manages the team for everything. He decides everything to do with football. I look after the contract, I look after the issues of the player outside of the pitch, I look after the scouts, I try to discover the best talent. I work with the chief scout and the scouts. So that’s it, it’s quite easy. We have same idea of football, the same style, so we are on board together. All the football decisions on the pitch is down to Gianfranco.
GZ: That’s exactly the position. I believe that managers in this country are in charge of everything concerned with football. That goes for choosing kit men, masseurs, players – everything. I believe that is a huge job. I believe that if you do something like that, you can’t do everything. I can make a difference on the pitch where I have spent my life.
The other thing we saw is that with managers over here, when he has to choose players, he relies on people around him: agents and staff, I believe. Some, they do. As far as I’m concerned as long as I’m focused on the team and on the players, I don’t get much time to scout around the world. That’s where me and Gianluca work. We need to find a player in a certain position. If I went myself, I would be picking on 2/3 players. Gianluca knows what type of players I want and need, he provides me with more choice. That is the good thing. I have the possibility to choose from bigger range of players. That as far as I’m concerned is ideal, we can have more and more possibilities to get right players for this club. I like the way it’s working… until Gianluca starts to move into tactics. Something that he doesn’t do very often, fortunately for him. I believe that if you do something you cannot get your feet into too many shoes. My job is better when I’m dealing with the skipper…
JE: Not very often! At the moment.
GZ: The problem comes when I have to get into names. We try to work together because this is a huge job. In order to do it properly you have to have people around you.
West Ham didn’t end as well as you would have liked. What did you learn from there? And do you know what was in this safe?!
John Marks: We’ll perhaps take that one off air, maybe. Maybe, at the bar at the end!
SD: From my personal experience, I don’t part want to talk about past. Our whole focus is Watford. What I can say is that I firmly believe is that you only learn from mistakes and you become a better individual because of that. I am a far better CEO now because of my experiences in the past. There were successes and there were failures. Provided you don’t make same mistakes twice, you’re a better person for it. Us three are better individuals because of our past experience, and our whole focus, our pride, is being here. All we can promise is that we’ll give everything to this football club.
All I get from my friends is, ‘you’re just Udinese’s feeder club’. I want to be reassured that we’re not, that we are Watford.
SD: All I can say is, I understand those concerns. Absolutely, this football club is a football club that stands on its own. It has its own heart, it has its own soul, and we all understand that. When we first came, maybe we didn’t, but the Open Day to me was awe-inspiring. We understand what makes this club tick. It’s a family club that is rooted in community. We want to be ambitious, but never to the detriment of the heart and soul of this football club. And we will never lose sight of that, ever. Gino understands that. If we could have our time again, we wouldn’t have brought in so many loans at the last minute, we wouldn’t have raised the concern, but that was just a timing issue. But rest assured that this football club is standing on its own, and we understand what makes it tick, and we will never ever lose sight of those values.
The Pozzo family dynamic. What happens if something goes wrong? Are things ring-fenced. For instance, Granada have a major problem at the moment with the town council [ITWM: It’s been sorted out, for now] and they could have to play all their games hundreds of miles away which means a lack of money. Is what goes on at Watford ring-fenced from what goes on at Udinese and Granada?
SD: All of the ownership is effectively separated. Primarily, our ambition is to get into Europe, so we need to avoid that problem as well. All of the ownership is individual, and any problems at one club wouldn’t affect another.
Watford Legends, the Former Players Association. Future plans?
SD: It has always continued and will always continue. We’re trying to improve its reach, we’ve set up a benevolent fund. It’s important to us. It always will be.
Food prices. What about the foot prices?
SD: We have the cheapest cup of tea in the Championship.
Is there a chance of getting the early bird discount for student tickets extended a little later in the season?
SD: I really want to discuss all these ideas. We’ll set up a focus group as soon as we can. We want to increase attendances.
If you could dispel a couple of rumours from forums. Season ticket prices for next season: I presume projections have been done already. The rumours are that it’s going to be an over-30% hike for next season…
SD: Would you pay a 30% hike? No. We haven’t looked at it yet, but I want to increase attendances, not penalise those already coming. So, we haven’t looked at the prices, but I wouldn’t anticipate an increase.
We’ve signed Sean Murray and Tommie Hoban on for five years. Is that with Watford?
SD: Yes, I’ve heard all these rumours that Udinese are signing this player, that player. Udinese don’t have any of our players. It’s simply not true.
A reason for some players signing for Udinese before joining us (Marco Cassetti)?
SD: It was just simply mechanics with the window shutting. Gino, Gianluca and Gianfranco were looking at players, they moved in, signed them and moved them straight to us. It was simply mechanics, finances and getting them to us quickly.
What do you think? Are you satisfied with this explanation of the loans? Do you think the management hold Harefield in enough esteem? Leave your thoughts below.