A Response to Ian Holloway

Clearly envisaging a defeat against the division’s form team last night, Ian Holloway, an experienced media manipulator in the mould of ‘dear old’ Harry Redknapp, got his excuses in early with a pre-match rant to the Sky cameras about the loanees in Watford’s squad. ‘They’ve got nine loans from Udinese. I’ve been looking to get loans in. I’ve got six but I can only use five of them, and can only take two from one club. How are our young players ever gonna get picked? They look like a foreign team, and I think they are.’

Rather surprisingly, he then chose to rabbit on about the same thing at the post-match press conference, despite his side putting in an admirable second half performance that was much more deserving of comment.

Let’s be honest, we’re all biased about this loan thing. It’s allowing us to watch some players who should be nowhere near the Championship representing our club, and providing sexy, winning football. There’s a lot to be said about the system. Is it morally right to outsource talent to an entirely different league pyramid? Maybe not. Should said talent be shipped over in such numbers, virtually transforming a club’s identity in one fell swoop? There’s a good argument to say no (not that it has affected our identity one bit – but that’s a different story). Is it unfair? Not one bit.

There’s nothing stopping Holloway from asking his board to get in contact with some big foreign clubs to propose a similar set-up – I’d be surprised if there aren’t clubs around the league who have already done so. There are quite a few sides around Europe who have big squads and may prefer their reserves to play in a more competitive foreign league than further down in their own. Holloway’s problem is that we’ve done it first.

There are some moral dilemmas to go along with it, but just because you don’t agree with a way of operating doesn’t mean it’s wrong and shouldn’t be allowed. Is the Udinese/Watford model of sustainably developing talent through networking worse than spending millions of pounds throwing stupid money at average players in an attempt to reach the Premier League (Leicester)? Is it worse than clearing out your squad and using the club as a halfway house for washed-up free agents who just so happen to have the same representation (last year’s Doncaster)? Is it worse, in this economic climate where everyone is losing money, to be a football club blindly chasing the dream until you’re reliant on one man’s wealth to keep you afloat (Chelsea and countless other clubs in England) or disappear in a vat of fiscal quicksand (Portsmouth, Leeds of old, Darlington); or to be a prudently-run club that actually makes money (Udinese recorded profits of €8.8 million last year – Leicester last year published losses of £15.2 million) AND achieves moderate success without ever going overboard?

Who was the first player to be loaned between professional clubs? I don’t know, and from a cursory glance at Google, the internet doesn’t either. Whoever it is, their name has not gone down in footballing infamy. But what must the fans and players from his competing clubs have thought when this player was acquired on a short-term deal from, presumably, a better side? Outrage, which would have been quickly replaced by a drive to improve their team by the same means. Now loans are commonplace. Co-ownership, which is what this whole thing really is about, has been around for some time in Italy and South America. It’s never caught on here, but now that Watford are doing it to such positive effect, it will start to infiltrate the English game.

An annotated programme that Holloway pettily presented to Sky showing - wrongly - all of Watford's loanees.

An annotated programme that Holloway pettily presented to Sky showing – wrongly – all of Watford’s loanees.

Anyway, here are yesterday’s 18-man squads:

Watford: Almunia, Doyley, Hall, Hoban, Cassetti, Chalobah, Abdi, Hogg, Pudil, Deeney, Vydra; Bond, Forestieri, Battocchio, Eustace, Yeates, Murray, Geijo

Palace: Speroni, Richards, Ramage, Delaney, Moxey, Zaha, Dikgacoi, Marrow, Bolasie, Dobbie, Murray; Price, Williams, Phillips, Butterfield, Parr, Wilbraham, O’Keefe

The players underlined are those that have graduated from each club’s academy, the one’s in red are the players that are on loan from other clubs, and the ones in bold are those dirty, dirty foreigners (i.e outside the British Isles).

In fairness to Palace, they had a measly four foreign players in their squad (we’ll count the Abidjan-born Zaha as English because he’s good*) to Watford’s quite frankly despicable eight (we’ll count the Freetown-born Chalobah as English because he is also good). Eight out of eighteen. What self-respecting football team would only have ten British players in their squad? Ahem.

If you want to be really jingoistic about things – which, let’s face it, a lot of people do – both teams had eight English-born players in their squads, though Watford had more in their starting line-up.

‘How are our youngsters meant to get the chance to play?’ said Holloway. Well, why not ask Watford, who, despite being lumbered with numerous world-beaters, found a way to fit four academy graduates in their squad, compared to Palace’s two? There’s a parenting adage I heard recently that you should let your children beat you at everything until they are four, and then start beating them (at games, you understand). We aren’t going to produce a nation of world class footballers if we give them a free pass into our football teams. We have proven this season that if our youngsters warrant a place in the side, they’ll get it. We may not be seeing graduates on the pitch in the same numbers as in recent years, but with the standard of first-team coaching and competition, we’ll see far more Ashley Youngs and Lloyd Doyleys than Jamie Hands and Gary Fiskens in the side.

This is all ignoring the fact that the loan thing was a one-time deal, and ignoring the fact that had it not been allowed we would have got the players anyway. Plus there is, of course, Fernando Forestieri’s 5.5 year contract (something that seems to have passed Holloway by), with more, hopefully, to follow.

For Holloway, our loans were a crutch – a ready-made excuse for defeat. It’s understandable. Nobody really cared when we were drifting around in mid-table, but now we are at the top and making waves, the ownership issue is a way of latching onto us and bringing us down.

Let’s be simplistic. What’s football about? The fans. What’s football not about? Cheating. Are we, the fans, enjoying the hell out of the season? Yes. Are we cheating? No. So shut up and let us get on with it.

*The ECB Effect


  1. Adrian Rolfe alias Norwayhornet · · Reply

    Very well put , well done
    Sod off Ollie gone way down in my estimation .

  2. harrowhorn · · Reply

    Forget about Holloway, he’s a berk. According to him he didn’t know about the Watford setup until he saw the programme. This is either :
    a) a lie (likely) or
    b) a demonstration of criminal and unprofessional lack of research on a promotion rival

  3. Superb article

  4. Ken Jackson · · Reply

    Excellent response – although I do wonder if it will hit home where it really needs to – there are none so blind as those who cannot see etc. One small point – you could have mentioned that Almunia is ‘almost’ British, after all he has been here so long that he has qualified to play for England.

  5. John Slade · · Reply

    Holloway, I always used to have a tad of begruding respect for you, however, I need to let you know I just got rid of better by way of a flush.

  6. John Smith · · Reply

    Great piece! One thing though is that it doesn’t mention Cardiff’s debts and changing the entire colour of their club in order to wipe them (which it now transpires actually didn’t happen!).

    I also can’t help but think that it’s not fellow Watford fans that need to see this – it’s rival fans. You kind of feel that this year is almost win-or-bust as the loophole will surely be closed with people like Holloway bleating on with inaccuracies. Of course, we will just take them on permanents instead.

  7. Of course it would be much more acceptable if the club had a rich owner with one club who had bought all these players like numerous other clubs have done. Hang on our owner has bought these players so there is no difference, if rich owners putting their reasorces into “our clubs” then this should be stopped , players go back to earning £5 a week, pitches with no grass etc…..

    There was stat that Chelsea have 23 players out on loan, no wonder there aren’t enough players for Watford to sign and why we need so many loans – if Barcelona bought an Englush club then so be it, I just hope it is palace and then see Mr Holloway say no thank you to any of the players.

  8. To be fair to Holloway, he does point out that he is from Bristol, so to expect the idiot to understand anything other than a Janet & John book, would be a miracle. I for one wish he would stick the carrots he grows so far up his arse, that he can really moan about something

  9. What ever happened to your academy? would you not prefer to see more of your good ENGLISH youngsters from your very good academy playing for your team, or are you happy in getting Udinese players match fit for when they want them back


    1. Ken Jackson · · Reply

      Uninformed comment there Steve – you really should research more on the ‘loan’ situation before responding. As for our academy – try this for size: Crystal Palace – number of minutes of first team action by academy players this season = 3066. Watford – number of minutes of first team action by academy players this season = 4146. So who is doing more for local English players – Watford or, as Holloway contends, Palace?

      1. A wonderful statistic. Bravo.

  10. So, you read the article then Steve?

  11. Steve, did you even bother to read the article?

  12. Break Palaces ‘loanees’ down again.

    Butterfield : Cover for KG at the Afcon, will probaly go back.
    Dobbie: Only signed as loans to late on deadline day to sign permanent.
    Zaha: Only on loan as its the only way for the United deal to suit Palace. Had rules have been different we would not have sold him.

    Watford fans so short sighted here. Its not about the ‘starting line up’ its about how you build a squad for a second tier English team when you borrow 9 players from 1 foreighn club. Sure, no rules are broken, the football is good, good luck to you. But its wrong, it will stifle home grown talent, Watford just dont care, thats up to them. How many of your 4 academy players you bang on about would have played if injuries and the late return of Noseworthy hadn’t intervened?

    When the loophole is closed, Watford will be in trouble. Their squad will be decimated, poor results will follow. Lets see how wrong you all think Holloway was then eh?

    1. Eagle, it doesn’t matter how you’re utilising your loans – the fact of the matter is that you are utilising the loan system, and that loans made up as significant a part of your squad as they did ours. Perhaps on another day you might have had a few less, but Holloway made his point before and after THIS match, in which the numbers were fairly even.

      How many of the academy boys would have been in the squad if Nosworthy had been fit to play? All four of them. Tommie Hoban has broken into the team only this year, at a time when all of the loanees were already in situ. You will notice that he was our man of the match. Jonathan Bond is considered a long-term successor to Manuel Almunia, and performed admirably in his run-out against Man City in January. Lloyd will be around forever and Sean Murray is a player with incredible potential who’s having a spot of second season syndrome. You’re right though, injuries did play a part – they stopped Adam Thompson being on the bench.

      Should the loophole be closed, it wouldn’t affect us in the slightest. Though we only managed to tie up Forestieri on a permanent deal in January, others will follow. Perhaps not Vydra, who’s been the subject to interest from big clubs, and maybe, if we don’t go up, Abdi will go onto better things, but all of our loans, except Chalobah, have permanent deals written into them. The influx of loans was a one-time thing, to make our squad competitive this season, which it has.

      As I said above, I’m not blind to the problems with this system. Without limits it could lead to anti-competition and should we get into Europe any time soon it will lead to a massive clusterfudge of regulations. In the wrong hands, such a system could be disastrous for the club. As it is, however, we have an owner who has a proven track record of growing a club sustainably and successfully – an Italian with only one proven dose of match-fixing, a veritable angel.

      Criticism is fine. But it’s the hand-wringing by those who haven’t looked at the facts, and are just waiting for us to fall, rather than waiting and seeing what actually happens, that grates.

  13. Excellent. May I suggest sir you print off a copy of this and send it to both Mr holloway requesting a reply, to Mr Martin Samuals at the daily Mail, requesting same, and the Football League management Committee and Press Officer because doubtless all those tools are believing the bile being written about us and someone needs to factually redress the balance and correct the inaccuracies. End of Sermon

  14. He obviously didn’t otherwise he would know that Watford’s Academy is fit and well and that 8 Academy players have played for the first team this season and several have been give 5 year contracts!

  15. Very well written article, good work. People seem to have no trouble with obscenely rich ‘foreign’ owners taking over English clubs then filling said club with ‘foreign’ players, usually at the expense of established English players or promising youngsters from the youth system, and quite often a ‘foreign’ and coaching staff – how does that not affect the identity or culture of the club?

    Holloway let himself down quite badly with his programme stunt and moaning both before and after the game. No mention of the excellent performance of his team in the 2nd half (bar a fleeting mention) and the great support from the fans who could have easily opted for the sofa option.

    Ironically the equaliser was made by and scored by two loanees but missed that detail….

  16. I honestly can’t believe how short sighted your fans are and also how you seem to miss so much of what Holloway said in his pre and post match interviews.

    Firstly, lets just clear up what Holloway said. It seems so many Watford fans were so busy stamping their feet that they heard 1 part of his interview but no more!!

    He did praise the Palace fans AND players.
    He did praise the Watford manager and players.
    He did acknowledge the fact we had ‘loanees’ but if you look at the breakdown in my previous post, it’s not quite the same is it?
    Zaha is only on loan as thats the way the deal had to be done or he wouldnt have been sold.
    Butterfield was cover for KG at Afcon.
    Dobbie will be permanent but was signed as a loan due to time issues.
    Phillips, Richards & Nimley are loans in the true sense.
    Watford on the other hand didnt just sign a couple of loans in January but have had practically half a Serie A reserve team on loan for THE WHOLE SEASON!!!

    If Watford fans really have no problem with the loss of their identity in this manner then great. If you really think these players or owners care about Watford as much more than £££ as so many Watford fans are saying then you are very naive and if you really think that your home grown players wont suffer because of having so many players from another club playing for you then you are barmy.

    Its pretty irrelevant trying to compare our loans to yours and who played where on Friday as thats totally missing the point.

    1) Its not about ‘starting line ups’ but how you build and keep your squad fit and fresh. (Even the most insanely biased Hornet can surely see that having that many players from 1 club can aid this.
    2) If you chose to, you could play all your loans. If your 11 loans were your 11 strongest players and you played Cardiff in a title decider, Udinese reserves could be played against Cardiff and no one can do niche.
    3) Even if all our loans were OUR strongest player, we could only play 5 at the most.
    4) Having that many loans from one club has got to prevent home grown talent coming through.

    I realise and recognise that some academy players played and you have to take credit for that but feel you lot are so on the defensive about the whole issue you’ve totally lost sight of the pitfalls in this arrangement.

    We had a manger we thought was our own. He left for money.
    We tried to buy a player who was a Palace fan. He turned us down for money.
    We had 2 owners who were fans who put us in admin. They foolishly gambled their money.

    There is a common theme here. If you can spot it then you may guess what the Pozzis are in it for and its not the love of Watford FC. I hope for your sake you go up soon because if they get bored, your club could be in big trouble.

    1. “3) Even if all our loans were OUR strongest player, we could only play 5 at the most.”

      Why do you have to get loans from the UK? Why not look abroad for possible loanees and utilise this yourself…

  17. Our club was in big trouble before the Pozzos took over, Eagle. Check out the background of our previous owner, Laurence Bassini.

    I shared many of your doubts at the beginning of the season. Would the foreigners gell with the existing players, were they just here to take the money and put in minimum effort, would our young home-grown players stlll get a chance? The answers are yes, no and yes. The players – imports and home-grown – have shown a lot of spirit, and as the league table shows, Zola has got results which have steadily improved after a shaky start.

    Just like Dobbie, many of our new players only came in on loan because the Pozzos’ purchase of the club wasn’t completed until late on. Forestieri signed a long contract during the transfer window, and some of the others – the ones who’ve played regularly – have indicated that they will be signing for Watford in the summer. It made sense for them not to complete the deal during the last window, as nobody knows which division Watford will be in next season.

    The level playing-field for football clubs came to an end when the maximum wage was abolished. Various ways of beating the system have been tried, and I agree with ITWM that the Pozzos’ way is one of the least pernicious. I’m not happy about one company owning several clubs, but I’m not sure it’s that different from the Americans who own several clubs in different sports, or indeed conglomerates who have both sporting and non-sporting interests. They can all shuffle funds around between their various operations.

    By the way, selling Zaha for a fortune, using some of the money to strengthen the squad AND getting him back on loan is a crafty way of using the loan system, isn’t it?

  18. Ken Jackson · · Reply

    Eagle – your problem seems to be twofold.
    1) Your inability to properly research – in particular your contention that we have 11 players on loan from one club. To put it simply, we don’t – quite possibly you are basing your research, and ergo your opinion/argument, on ‘information’ from the tabloid press, who are actually guilty of misinformation. I suggest that you look further afield
    2) Perhaps it would be easier if we all stopped referring to our ‘European transfers’ as loans, because they are not. The Football League, in accepting their registration with us, recognise this – why can’t everyone else? The fact remains that we only actually have two loan players – Chalobah from Chelsea and Bia from Standard Liege. So if we fielded all of our loan players against Cardiff, as you mentioned, we would still need to find nine others for the starting team.

    ” I hope for your sake you go up soon because if they get bored, your club could be in big trouble.”

    I challenge you to name just one club in the EPL or FL where that doesn’t apply! Look at the massive debts that EPL teams have. Look at the financial mess that Cardiff, Forest, Blackburn are in, look at Leeds who are apparently about to change owners for the second time in six weeks – and you choose to hone in on us, who are working more quickly towards achieving a sustainable financial model than the majority of other clubs? Check the history of the Pozzo family and their connection with football and you’ll find that we are not likely to be in trouble as you suggest

    “If Watford fans really have no problem with the loss of their identity in this manner then great.”

    Perhaps you’d like to elaborate – what loss of identity? The only real changes have been that we operate on a sounder footing, we access a better standard of player from further afield and we play a more attractive style of football. Who in their right mind would argue against having that?

  19. Crikey Ken,your problem seems to be delusion. So if one of your ‘European transfers’ was sold for 10 million now, then the 10 million would go to Watford would it? No, because they are loans. You may hold the registration of the player as such but you do not own them.

    So, the Pozzo fanily love their football eh? I’m sure they do. So do I. We had 2 owners who loved Palace, were fans and yet both sent us into Admin. Dont be so incredibly naieve as to swallow everything your told. Your banging on about me going on ‘information from the tabloid press’ yet some Italian family comes to England, decides to turn Watford into a world force and your riding the rollercoaster no questions asked and swallowing everything your told. Your perogative but dont kid yourself into thinking there is not an risk factor going on here. When the Pozzi’s realise there could be better bets than Watford, if your still in the Championship in 2 years, you really think they, Zola and all the players you have who want to get to the top flight will still be kissing the badge??

    Thanks for a less patronising and quality response.

    I will easily admit to not knowing every details about the situation and I do accept the points you’ve made and accept some of the points that you’ve made. All I would say is, accepting that all is rosy in the Watford garden, complacency with the situation is dangerous. Money talks and no matter how much the Pozzis may like Watford, no progress (as I have said above) and we’ll see how interested they stay.

    On the subject of Zaha briefly, Crafty?
    He signed a 5 year contract last year. He was never gonna be playing his football after Jan anywhere apart from Palace. Why sell a player that good when your in the top six, dont need the money and he’s under contract. A ‘end of season’ deal was apparently not allowed by football league rules. United wanted him so the deal was done. If they had not paid his worth, he would still be here, just as a Palace player and not a loan.
    Crafty? Not sure. We could have said no till the summer and let a bidding war begin, perhaps we should have. If Torres can go for 50 and Carrol for 35 then we have been ripped off!!

    Last response from me, more games to move onto this week. I do wish you guys good luck. A good footballing side, not too far to travel and on the whole decent fans.

  20. Of course nothing in football (or in life) is ever certain, Eagle. Clubs within touching distance of the big time, second-tier clubs with a bit of experience of the Prem, are always vulnerable to owners who take a punt and get it horribly wrong. Portsmouth (several times) are the best example of this, but even Palace have fallen into that trap.

    The Pozzos might leave us high and dry, but I would think that Chelsea and Man City are far more likely to walk away and kill their club. The Pozzos do have a long and successful track record with Udinese and Granada have had a positive experience. From what I hear, the staff at Watford are pleased to have bosses who know how to run a football club.

    My concerns about the takeover are dwindling week by week, and if we start next season looking stable on and off the pitch (irrespective of which division we’re in) then I expect all my doubts to have disappeared.

  21. […] to me at least – seemed to have quietened down considerably following another spike created by Ian Holloway’s rant (that this lean period in coverage had corresponded with one of the Hornets’ worst runs of form […]

  22. Loan Arranger · · Reply

    What is wrong or right in this case and who is wrong or right, will be pretty much determined whether the Football league change the rules on this. If they do, then it will be recognition that a club exploited a loophole that the league never envisaged would be exploited. If the don’t then I am sure we can expect many more English clubs being taken over as a feeder club for a richer parent club.

  23. […] It’s part and parcel of football, let alone football on the internet to go into absolute uproar as soon as the smallest of perceived slights is levelled at a team, so I would say there is a heavy dose of the latter in this situation. Watford’s situation with the Pozzo and the ownership of Udinese and Granada seems to have created a perfect storm of tepid football banter this season. Watford fans seem desperate to either defend the club or assert their contempt at any questions of immorality at their use of the loan system, while every other club (Palace included) have jumped at the opportunity to get the old ‘Loanford’ barbs in. I doubt anyone believed Holloway’s claim that he didn’t realise what was going on until he looked at the programme, but it wouldn’t be football if everyone didn’t get outraged by it. […]

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