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Watford’s promotion justified but joint-club ownership clouds their success

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]he fight to be promoted from The Championship this season has been as fierce as any time in the recent memory, with a host of teams within a number of points of sealing automatic promotion to the Premier League.

Although Bournemouth’s stellar campaign and unlikely winning of the league must go down as the story of the season, Watford should also be commended for some superb football and a justified place back amongst English football’s elite.

The Vicarage Road side have played some scintillating attacking football through 2014-15, especially since the turn of the year, with only a last-day draw against Sheffield Wednesday robbing them of finishing top of the pile.

Watford have played two seasons in the top flight in the Premier League era, which have resulted in demotion back to the second tier at the first time of asking for the Hornets.

Despite the step-up to the Premier League still being a daunting proposition for any newcomers, there is reason to believe that the London club can do considerably better this time round.

With a gifted manager in place and a host of star performers at Championship level, the Hornets will hope to consolidate their place amongst the nation’s best.

The potential for them to do this is enhanced dramatically by the presence in the boardroom of owner Gino Pozzo.

Along with his father Giampaolo, the Pozzo family have managing stakes in Italian side Udinese and Spaniards Granada.

Gino PozzoHaving a conflict of interests in a number of different clubs in British football is against the regulation of the game in the United Kingdom, but the Italian family have done nothing wrong by investing in clubs across the continent.

This arrangement can be looked at in two contrasting ways; either as smart business acumen or a corrupting feature of the game that goes against sportsmanship.

Although not conclusive, the influence in the transfer market of Pozzo in bringing players from his other clubs has been a telling factor in the Hornets’ promotion.

Nine members of Slaviša Jokanović’s squad have played at either Udinese or Granada in the past and the ownership arrangement has played its part in creating an unfair balance across the teams in English football’s second tier.

Two of the Hornets’ most influential players this season have joined the Vicarage Road club from Pozzo’s other teams, with Matěj Vydra on loan from Udinese and Odion Ighalo a former Granada player.

Czech Republic international forward Vydra is in his second stint with the London club after bagging 20 goals for Watford back in 2012-13.

This season’s contribution of 16 strikes has been crucial in Watford’s drive for promotion, while his link-up with Ighalo and captain Troy Deeney in the club’s forward line has been impressive.

Nigerian forward Ighalo was on Udinese’s books for six years but only made six Serie A appearances in this time; he was farmed out to Granada on loan twice, before being sent temporarily to Watford at the start of this season.

A permanent deal was arranged for the 25-year-old to move to Vicarage Road in October, with Udinese conveniently terminating his contract in Italy to streamline the process. The African went on to score 20 times in The Championship in 2014-15.

Others to have played for either of the other two Pozzo-owned clubs include centre-half Gabriele Angella, Ecuador international Juan Paredes and midfielder Almen Abdi.

The Pozzo family and Watford are breaking no rules and in my opinion they have been shrewd in their exploitation of loopholes in the transfer system.

However, Uefa would be advised to look into the issue, which is similar to Chelsea’s feeder club arrangement with Vitesse Arnhem, as it creates an uneven playing field and the potential for financial irregularities.

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