Udinese are one of the oldest clubs in Serie A and celebrate their 125th anniversary this week. The seventh-place team is worth a staggering $336 million, thanks to shrewd business investments by owner Giampaolo Pozzo.
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Pozzo, as is his wont, downplays the fact that Udinese have qualified for European competition in 14 of the last 24 seasons. To do so while balancing the books and losing your top players each season is akin to winning the league for a team of that stature, but there’s a key flaw in their strategy. They go all-in when they believe they’ve discovered the right person and trust their instincts. It’s how they managed to recruit Sanchez, a 17-year-old Chilean, from C.D. Cobreloa in 2006, despite stiff competition from the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United.
“That was a scenario where you had a young athlete who we’d been following for a long time but who had suddenly become incredibly costly [to acquire] because everyone could see his potential,” Pozzo explains. “So we made a significant commitment, relying on our understanding of the player and the league, as well as our track record of developing players, to beat off rivals who would have offered more money. You have to be courageous and believe in what you’re doing at times.”
Every year, it becomes more difficult to maintain that model. Everyone preaches value signings, the act of purchasing cheap and selling high, with the exception of the top 10-12 teams in Europe, all of which have significant funds and contend for top trophies every year. And everyone is looking for a way to get an advantage, whether it’s via scouting networks, analytics, or feeder clubs.
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“However, I believe things have improved in recent seasons,” he says. “New investment has been made, and new rules and controls have been implemented to make the system more rigorous and transparent.” For example, nowadays it is theoretically impossible for a club to go bankrupt [as occurred to Fiorentina, Parma, and Lazio, among others].
“There is still more work to be done since there are still disparities to be resolved, but we are making progress. That is why, for example, I was utterly opposed to the Super League. It would have pulverized and depleted a system’s resources. We don’t need revolutions; we just need to keep improving on a system that has served us well for over a century.”
Pozzo’s grandfather founded the company in 1906, producing industrial woodworking and tooling gear. Pozzo developed it further after his father grew it, entering into electrical appliances and developing plants all around the globe, notably in China and the United States. It was his life’s work, which he sold to Bosch, a German multinational, in 2008. Now he must manage the family’s finances while still pursuing his love for football.
He explains, “I have a passion: I am a football enthusiast.” “When you’re a fan, you’re linked to the outcome every week, and you worry about it as time passes… given the situation of the world, maybe it’s better to become attached to basic things like football. It helps me to get away from the daily grind. What would I do if I wasn’t thinking about Udinese at this age? I’ve already traveled the globe, I’m 80 years old, and all I want to do now is relax and watch my team.”
Passion that lasts. That is how you reach the age of 80. It’s also how your team reaches 125 members.