Watford Club Heads to first FA Cup Finals since 1984, Owner Gino Pozzo Ecstatic
The Watford FC Hornets literally jumped for joy in their bright yellow kits after winning a riveting match against the Wolverton Wolves at Wembley this past Saturday, April 7, beating the Wolves 3-2 in extra time, and heading off to compete in the world’s oldest football tournament, the FA Cup finals.
This historic, hard-fought victory will face the Hornets off against Manchester City, a Premier League top-pick, on Saturday, May 18 at Wembley in the elite Emirates FA Cup Finals, an extremely important tournament that is widely followed by avid football fans around the globe.
For the Hornets, this will be their first FA Cup finals match since 1984 during the club’s glory days under the leadership of Graham Taylor, back when Sir Elton John owned the club. The Hornets lost that fateful match in 1984 against Everton, so a win at Wembley on May 18 would mean a historical resuscitation for this fast-rising club that lost a lot of steam during the 1990’s, and particularly after Taylor left the club in 2001.
Watford FC has not won an FA Cup since 1960, which means that if the Hornets manage to defeat League favorite Manchester City in this 2019 face-off, this match will go down in Hornets history, and there will be no end to the celebrations in Watford.
The unassuming Gerard Deulofeu, a slender Spaniard whose low-profile attitude and keen awareness of potential goal-scoring opportunities has become a trademark of his game, secured the Hornets’ victory in a cameo that saved the team after the Wolves scored two goals, leading the Hornets to a 3-2 victory in extra time.
In a post-game interview with Watford Head Coach Javi Gracia, Gracia voiced the supposition that Deulofeu may have perhaps been angry or frustrated after having been relegated to the bench during the first half of the important semi-finals match. Gracia replaced Deulofeu with Andre Gray in the starting lineup after Deulofeu delivered a less-than-impressive performance against Fulham during a midweek match.
Serendipitously, Gracia is doing so well at leading the Hornets to their long-awaited glory, that even his flawed decisions tend to work out in the club’s favor, and Deulofeu’s punishment may have actually contributed to the player’s flaming success in this highly significant match against the Wolves.
The understated Gracia chuckled slightly as he admitted that he likes to see his players get a little angry, and felt that Deulofeu’s anger may have fueled a winning attitude that led the Spanish player to deliver one of the best games of his career.
Gracia’s perception is certainly understandable, given that Deulofeu could easily have experienced a bit of ire and frustration while watching his replacement fumble two tremendous goal-scoring opportunities set up by team captain Troy Deeney in the first half of the game, allowing the Wolves to dominate that first half. Motivated by the desire to prove his worth, Deulofeu flew into action immediately upon hitting the field, scoring his first goal just 13 minutes after entering the game in the second half, at a time when the Wolves had the game in the bag with a 2-0 lead.
Troy Deeney then scored the tie-breaking goal in extra time, via an opportunity arising from a penalty assigned to the Wolves’ Leander Dendocker, with Deulofeu setting up the final goal that clenched the game for the Hornets via a series of effective pass exchanges with Gray.
A beaming Javi Gracia commented after the game, “We are very happy. I am very proud of all my players, all my supporters, because today we’ve lived together a special day.”
He also recounted how the squad prepared for this game: “Before coming, we knew it would be a tough game, very demanding. And when everything was lost, I think the team was able to show our character, our personality, our ambition, and believing until the end, we were able to win today,” he stated.
With specific reference to Deulofeu, Gracia remarked, “We knew before the game when we started with other players that Gerard would be important during the game. I knew it,” he conceded. “What I didn’t know was, when we started to play, that we were losing 2-0. But, in other games, it was the same. We started playing with Troy and Gerard, and Gray coming form the bench scored important goals for the team.”
He went on to justify his decisions regarding his starting lineup, explaining, “All the players deserve to play, and it’s not easy for me to choose the best moments for them, but I try to choose the best moments for everyone.” He continued, “I had to do different substitutions because my players asked me, they needed it. Gerard was one of them.”
In spite of admitting to having spurned Deulofeu to a point of single-minded determination, Gracia demonstrated his sensitivity and compassion as a coach when he noted that Deulofeu “has played almost all the games before, and he wanted to help the team, and he has done it.”
In fact, Gracia has been demonstrating his soft-spoken, morale-building approach to coaching, as well as his remarkable leadership skills during his first full season as Head Coach at Vicarage Road.
A former midfielder in the Spanish Primera Liga with a history of two consecutive 10-0 victories for Malaga during the 2013 Uefa Champions League quarterfinals, Gracia has led the Hornets through a highly successful and exciting season, marked by some dramatic plays and stellar performances against formidable opponents. These opponents include Liverpool, Manchester United, and Manchester City, a Premier League favorite that the Hornets must defeat on May 18 in order to take home the FA Cup.
The Watford club is deservedly enjoying its re-emergence in the Premier League, as the team has made a dramatic comeback over the past several years, which, by many accounts, has been a consequence of the fact that the club was purchased by Gino Pozzo in 2012.
Gino Pozzo, a member of the famed Italian football family that also owns the Udinese Calcio club in Italy, and once also owned the Granada Football Club in Spain, moved to Watford shortly after purchasing the Hornets, and sold the family’s shares in the Granada Club in 2016 in order to focus more fully on Watford. It was always Pozzo’s plan to bring this struggling club back to Premier League status, and this season’s results show that his handling of the club has indeed proven to be fortuitous.
The Pozzo family has consistently exhibited a sort of “Midas touch” with their football clubs, and the growing success of the Watford club since it landed in the hands of Gino Pozzo is a testament to that fact. Profoundly passionate about football, the family’s magic formula also worked wonders for the Udinese Calcio, a club owned by Gino’s father, Giampaolo Pozzo, since 1986.
The family also demonstrated its wizardry at empowering underdog clubs and elevating them to top-tier levels of success when they resuscitated the Granada Club in Spain from a crippling €12m debt and underling Second Division status to the prestigious Primera Liga, the country’s foremost football league.
After buying the Granada club in 2009 while Gino was living in Barcelona with his Catalan wife, the Pozzo family managed to lead the club from the country’s lowly Second Division to Spain’s top-tier Primera Liga in only two years, marking the club’s re-emergence in the Liga after a 35-year absence. By the end of their involvement with the Granada F.C. in 2016, the family sold its majority shares in the club for a sum of €37m to the owner of Link International Sports.
The Pozzos focus on developing and strengthening their football clubs by means of a model that includes recruiting lower-division players and conditioning them, as well as trading players among the clubs they own, providing international experience for their athletes. Their goal is to discover and build on the specific strengths of each of their players, and trading them between their two clubs in order to best develop each player’s specific skills and style of playing, while also finding the perfect fit for each player. For example, Watford will keep and develop a player that does better at Watford than at Udinese, allowing that player to maximize his career potential. This approach not only builds great squads, but also great players, and great careers.
Gino Pozzo knew exactly what he wanted to do with the Hornets when he purchased the Watford club in 2012, at a time when the club was struggling with debt and floundering as a minion in the lower division. Upon purchasing the club, Pozzo transferred his personal life to Watford, settled in at Vicarage Road, and has taken his time to build the club as he wants it, in order to achieve precisely what he set out to achieve: a winning squad that could compete in the Premier League, arguably football’s most prestigious platform.
After a grueling and intensive search for the perfect Head Coach saw the Hornets trained by several different Head Coaches over the past six years, Watford can finally rest easy with Pozzo’s appointment of Javi Gracia, who has guided the club through a spectacular first season, earning the trust and loyalty of his players.
In part that trust and loyalty among players in the Watford club is due to the fact that they understand that they are being groomed for greatness. There is also an inimitable sense of pride in being a member of the squad that will go down in history as having revived the team from an insignificant underling status in the lower division to experiencing the power and joy of competing in the prestigious FA Cup finals.
Goalkeeper Ben Foster is one player who has openly discussed how much he’s enjoyed playing for Watford during one of the best seasons of his career under the Pozzo model and Javi Gracia’s guidance and leadership. Remembering his League Cup win with underdog Birmingham in 2011, Foster mentioned in an ESPN FC interview that winning the FA Cup with Watford would mean much more to him than his victories during his glory days with Manchester United.
“I won the League Cup with United, but it was almost a given that we were going to win the game,” he stated matter-of-factly. “But I think if you win it with a team like Birmingham, West Brom, or Watford, it does mean so much more.”
Gracia has also won the trust and loyalty of his bosses, and enjoys daily support and encouragement from Pozzo, as well as Watford’s CEO and Chairman Scott Duxbury, and the team’s Technical Director, Filippo Giraldi. The three work together closely every day, aided by the fact that the team’s corporate offices are located onsite at the Vicarage Road training grounds, allowing the executive leadership to partake and influence every detail of the club’s day-to-day operations, strategies, and game development.
Additionally, in a recent ESPN interview, Duxbury told reporters that Sir Elton John, a passionate supporter of the Hornets and Honorary Lifetime President, provides daily advice and recommendations, particularly in the area of recruitment, trading, and team building. Duxbury testified to the music legend’s “encyclopedic knowledge of lower-league players,” and his commitment to remaining involved with the Hornets as an advisor as well as a lifelong fan.
But there is still work to be done at Vicarage Road in preparation for completing the club’s most successful season. There are still six games left to play in the Premier League, and the Hornets still have the opportunity of improving their position at the table at season’s end.
In fact, although the FA Cup Final is looming on the horizon, Javi Gracia mentioned in the post-semi-final interview, “I’m sure the players in this moment are focused on Arsenal next Monday. We have time to rest now, and on Monday we will play against Arsenal, because they don’t want to stop at this moment. We want to achieve a better position in the Premier League, and show their character. They want to keep going and to improve every day.”
The Hornets now sit in 10th place at the Premier League table and are set to host the Arsenal club at Vicarage Road on Monday April 15 in a match that stands to improve their ranking at the table, as Arsenal currently sits in 5th place.
When asked about which players he has in mind for the lineup as the Hornets prepare for that match against Arsenal, Gracia replied coyly, “I never reveal the lineup beforehand, because I never know the lineup for the other team.”
But pundits who have kept an eye on Javi have noted that he exhibits a pattern of consistency in setting up his starting squad, often starting the same players in many matches, making necessary and strategic substitutions as the game progresses.
The focus is on playing excellently at every game, improving each player’s skill level and knowledge, as well as creating a unified team strategy, and ultimately building a club that can make the grade at the prestigious Premier League table. Gracia achieves this by simply enjoying what he does, treating his players with compassion and respect, and focusing on consistently playing well rather than on winning specific trophies and accolades.
“I enjoy every moment,” declared Gracia. “I don’t need to achieve something special or to get the best results to enjoy my job or to enjoy these players. I enjoy my players and these amazing supporters every day.”
But every game played between now and May 18 will be a skill-building and strategic exercise for the Hornets squad as they prepare to face one of the Premier League’s highest-ranking clubs, Manchester City, at the FA Cup finals.
Manchester City, a Premier League favorite that many pundits predict will stifle Watford to take home the FA Cup, recently beat the Hornets in a highly charged meeting during which head referee Paul Tierney overturned a fellow referee’s call, leading to the first goal of the game by Manchester City.
Watford supporters expressed that the controversial call may have provided Man City with an unfair advantage that consequently led to the Watford defeat. Still, the Hornets played a mean game against Man City, effectively preventing any goal-scoring activity during the entire first 45 minutes of the game.
This means that a strong defense will once again be a key factor in thwarting the advances of this formidable foe, and that the Watford squad must focus seriously on preparing for this upcoming FA Cup finals match in order to deliver what may well become the best game of their lives.
Following the semifinal match, and in response to naysayers that doubt the power of the Hornets squad against Man City, as well as those that have picked Man City as the FA Cup finals favorite, Gracia’s comments were succinct. “I’m very proud of all my players because they’ve competed really, really well today,” he reiterated. “The rest of the opinions, I respect all of them, but it’s not my job. My job is to do my best for Watford, for their supporters, and to enjoy days like today.”