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Saturday August 4 2012
Udinese's true colours

Udinese fans may be disappointed at more stars leaving, but the club is maintaining its vision, argues Dylan Fahy.

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. 

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Have your say...
Udinese is a well run club with no ambition to win anything. They qualified for the champions league again...what was the point? It's not profitable to them so they won't care. Get as high up in the league as possible and sell the good players that's what they want. As a business model fantastic but from a fans point of view not so good. I feel sorry for you Udinese fans.
on the 10th August, 2012 at 9:21am
yes it's quite frustrating to see player after player leave but when Juve or Milan come knocking you know those guys wanna go.
on the 7th August, 2012 at 8:32pm
As a Furlan & lifelong Udinese fan, I'm very happy with the way the Pozzo family has run the club. A lot of 'neutrals' seem frustrated with Udinese because they want to see a club aim straight for the top; Udinese can't. They play in a sparsely populated, largely rural region. They can't compete financially with the teams in the big cities. Instead of following the EPL model of spending huge, having a couple great years and then going spectacularly bust, Udinese have aimed for steady growth.
on the 7th August, 2012 at 2:29pm
Udinese is a great midteam model. U cant build a winning team over night, without conglomerate backing.

Do you really think Udinese can stop Alexis Sanchez from leaving? Forcing him to stay will demotivate him which will effect his game and ultimately his value. It was the best time to sell, the same goes to the other names.

As for scouting in africa and s.america, well thats where the bargains are. Young italians r expensive and italians in their teens wud pick football schools from big teams
on the 7th August, 2012 at 1:20am
All of this is true, but, without Di Natale, Udinese wouldn't have finished 3rd and 4th. I don't see them finding a player that will accept to stay in Friuli at a discount, like Totò does.

Pozzo should differ some of the accolades he's received to Di Natale.
on the 6th August, 2012 at 1:54pm
Clubs like Udinese maybe doing well financially, but they defy the basic logic behind the game...the quest for victory.
If Arsenal and Udinese continue to be glorified, it will only lead to a game where clubs no longer burn with desire to be the best, but are happy at selling the spirit of the sport for cheap dividends.
on the 6th August, 2012 at 9:22am
But where would they be without Di Natale? Replacing a 25+ goals per season striker will cost millions; and it's an investment the club won't make. Toto doesn't have many years left in him, and Udinese could find themselves really struggling when his unbelievable goalscoring record inevitably comes to an end.
on the 6th August, 2012 at 5:48am
If Italian teams build 25.000 to 60.000 seater stadiums they will earn between 8 to 20 mill. more per year, meaning better chance of getting back the 4th CL spot.
on the 5th August, 2012 at 9:17pm
i'm a milan fan & i'm proud that Udinese is an italian club forza serie a!!! love their system
on the 5th August, 2012 at 7:28pm
I agree with Anothony & Saha, Udinese is like Arsenal. They either buy or produce young players and sell them for a profit. But why only limit their talent search to Africa & South America, Italy got plenty of young players, why not give them a chance...
on the 5th August, 2012 at 2:15pm
It's a tough life being an Udine fan I can tell you...
on the 5th August, 2012 at 12:43pm
I think there should be a fine balance about how much a club should sell and what is their ambition. Arsenal kind of follows the same model but they do keep on fighting for the titles. Their model is quite frustrating for all Udinese fans. There are also other ways to make money than just selling.
on the 5th August, 2012 at 12:50am
I can understand selling Handanovic and Isla to bigger clubs, but what's the point in selling Cuadrado to Fiorentina?

Finishing in the Champions League qualifiers for two successive seasons (as Udinese did) offers more to a player than finishing in mid-table (as Fiorentina did). If Fiorentina can offer a better salary, then why is Mr Pozzo buying Watford instead of investing money back into Udinese?

Now their first-team has maybe 5 or 6 new players and they have to form a capable team by August 28th for the Champions League qualifiers. If Udinese could qualify for the Champions League then they would have more money to offer in players' contracts. But if they don't they will keep selling and then not be able to qualify automatically.
on the 4th August, 2012 at 11:46pm
fantasticly run club. seen the new stadium plans and there pretty good, getting rid of the running track. problem is its fustrating for the fans to know as soon as a players turns ripe, he is sold off. bar di natale every big name leaves for a huge sum.

god knows how far they could have gone had they kept their big names..
on the 4th August, 2012 at 5:00pm
I hope they don't become the role model. Although Udinese has an excellent scouting system, they use about two Italians in their starting line-up. Italian teams need to start encouraging their own youth. If they all start copying Udinese they will only be helping South America.
on the 4th August, 2012 at 3:55pm
How can the fans stage a protest? Udinese is bar far and away the best managed team in Italy, if not, all of Europe. The fact that they qualified for Champions League again, even after the sales of Sanchez and Inler, is amazing achievement. And this year, they have brought in some promising youngsters from Brazil and other countries that could be stars in the near future. They aren't going to win the league but you can't expect them to. Great job by the Pozzo family.
on the 4th August, 2012 at 3:17pm
Good article and spot on with regards to Udinese and their footballing model.

They area team I will always look out for as they find and produce amazing talent year after year and despite their high turnover of players manage to maintain team spirit and ambition.

It must be frustrating from a fans point of veiw however as they must grow attached to some players just to see them sold on.
on the 4th August, 2012 at 2:58pm
The main problem is that UCL Preliminary Round is a knockout game that being played when the new replacement players still do not adapt to the team.

As in the previous season, it means that Udinese Model will always make a team that weak in the beginning of a season and getting stronger and stronger as the season going (if successfull).
on the 4th August, 2012 at 2:53pm
Interesting article, and it seems to be system that works for them, and also seems to be bearing fruit for other clubs around europe too. You need look no further than my team Newcastle United, they have implemented a very similar system in the last few years and that seems to be the way ahead. If UEFA finally pushes through their financial fair play initiative we could see may clubs of all shapes and sizes adopting a similar system.
on the 4th August, 2012 at 2:44pm

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