The line between playing a successful brand of football and running a profitable business is often an extremely shady one when anchoring a club, but in the case of Udinese, it has always been black and white. Ever since taking over the reins of the Friulani over 25 years ago, Giampaolo Pozzo has maintained a clear vision on how the outfit would operate.
Pozzo and his team in Udine, that includes his son Gino, are adept businessmen. They are a rare breed of football management teams that have brought success both on the pitch and in the accounts room. Their model has always been to scout talented players from around the globe before nurturing and selling them on for several times their initial fee.
Their scouting system is vast and spreads over countless countries, but their focus has always been in both Africa and South America. It is widely believed that the system costs a mere €6m a year to run, using local contacts under the command of regional directors. Pozzo purchased Spanish club Granada in 2009 and more recently English side Watford to expand the system further. Players can now gain experience in vastly different footballing landscapes before moving back to Udinese a more matured prospect.
Over the past decade Udinese have netted close to €250m from players. In the last year alone the sales of stars such as Gokhan Inler to Napoli, Alexis Sanchez to Barcelona, Cristian Zapata to Villarreal and others have earned the club €100m. Despite the sale of all three of those key players, the Friulani still qualified for the Champions League preliminary round again last season, leapfrogging the likes of Inter, Napoli, Lazio and Roma.
Administrative Director Alberto Rigotto recently revealed plans to revamp Udinese’s Stadio Friuli, which involves demolishing two stands. The additional funds from their budget are set to go to good use, with ticket prices not increasing despite the upgrade. Prices have actually gone down compared to those of 10 years ago.
Udinese have, alongside Milan, Inter, Lazio and Roma, the joint record of having competed in Serie A for the past 17 consecutive seasons. The past two terms have been by far their most successful, as under the guidance of Coach Francesco Guidolin they have qualified for the Champions League preliminary round twice. While their position in the table had fluctuated significantly, the past two years have been a statement that the Zebrette could be here to stay.
To sum up the situation, we could say Udinese have sold their way to the top. The benefits to their system are colossal, but huge risks are being put in place regularly by doing so. Almost every year the team’s star players move on, with longstanding midfielders Kwadwo Asamoah and Mauricio Isla both joining Juventus already this summer. A relatively young squad is expected to settle immediately and again challenge for Champions League qualification, but supporters have grown tired of seeing their favourite players move on with no apparent replacements being brought in.
Over 200 fans recently wrote an open letter to Pozzo and his management team questioning their ambition. The main point emphasised was how he has funds to purchase Watford and upgrade the stadium, but not for new signings. The owner himself responded by stating the “players wanted to leave,” and he was really powerless to stop them.
Questions will always hang over The Udinese Model, but their progress is quite clear to see, especially over the past few months. With UEFA’s financial fair-play hanging over the heads of major clubs around the continent, the Zebrette will certainly be the role model to look towards.