Basically, I want to take a page from the Pozzo handbook. In case you are not familiar with the story, Giampaolo Pozzo took over his local side Udinese back in 1986, since then Udinese have been on an incredible journey which has taken them from betting scandals and Serie B football to the Champions League, and Giampaolo didn’t achieve this through following a model which involved him spending big amounts of money on players, he achieved it through investing in scouts which found some of the best young talents across the world, these players would then be signed fairly cheaply by Udinese and would be developed into great footballers who could help the team grow.
In the summer following promotion in 1994, Udinese supporters were given a taste of things to come in the shape of Oliver Bierhoff, signed for approximately 2m from Ascoli. Within three seasons he was a German international, topped the Serie A scoring charts in 1997-98 with 27 goals and was sold for ten times the amount he was bought for to AC Milan.
This was the “Udinese Model” in its embryonic stage, Bierhoff its first real success. Set up by Pozzo in that first season back in Serie A, Bierhoff was just one example of a number of older players Udinese have transformed from journeymen into household names.
What they really sought was young, raw talent with as yet unrealised potential. One of the first real examples of this came in the form of young Chilean David Pizarro. His story is typical of many Udinese players; signed for a paltry sum, loaned back to his native Chile and eventually sold for a massive profit to one of Italy’s giants, which in this case was Inter.
When Bierhoff left the Stadio Friuli Thomas Helveg and manager Alberto Zaccheroni joined him at San Siro, where they went on to win Lo Scudetto immediately. Pizarro’s aim was the same. In many respects, this is Udinese in a nutshell. While they find the players, the players find glory elsewhere and the club makes a healthy profit.
In 1999/2000 they also splashed the cash by their standards, purchasing their record signing Stefano Fiore from Parma. Even that involved Bierhoff’s replacement, Marcio Amoroso, going the other way, more than just offsetting the outlay, it completely outweighed it. Fiore was then sold a season later, after being capped by Italy, to Lazio, for a huge profit. To call Udinese shrewd would be an understatement.
Of course, all of that would be for nought if it did not translate to some semblance of success on the pitch. The yo yoing that had provoked Pozzo into taking action was now a thing of the past. Udinese had finished outside of the top 10 on only three occasions and one of those was in their first season back in Serie A
Udinese have since gone from strength to strength. In fact, one of their most important pieces of business was done in the summer of 2004, as Antonio Di Natale arrived for a fee of less than 200,000 from Empoli. Another player made by his time at the Bianconeri, but one who has not moved on.
This has also been vital to Udinese’s accomplishments. As players have arrived and left, there have always been one or two constants. Di Natale best embodies that, but others such as Martin Jorgensen, who eventually left for free after 7 years at the club in the summer of Di Natale’s arrival, have also provided a an element of continuity as players have come and gone around them.
By 2006/07, over a decade after its inception, it’s clear just how ingrained the model had become. A number of what would become high profile players were signed and loaned out, most notably Alexis Sanchez, who was sold to Barcelona for yet another remarkable profit. Another player loaned out that season was goalkeeper Samir Handanovic; both he and Sanchez would play their part in the side that would lead to Udinese to the brink of Champions League football in 2010/11.
Udinese faced Arsenal in a qualifying play off in 2011/12. Their team was shorn of three players who were key performers in finishing fourth, which gave them this opportunity to dine at Europe’s top table. The aforementioned Sanchez had already departed for Barcelona, while Cristian Zapata and Gokhan Inler also moved on. Di Natale and Handanovic aside, the foundation upon which their previous season had been built was now scattered away from the Stadio Friuli. Udinese pushed Arsenal close but were ultimately eliminated on away goals.
Just as the departures of Bierhoff and later the likes of Asamoah Gyan, Sulley Muntari, Vincenzo Iaquinta, Morgan De Sanctis have not halted the Udinese machine, neither did the loss of Sanchez and co. Udinese would have to better their fourth placed finish to qualify for the Champions League preliminaries this time and much to everyone’s surprise they did it, only to fall at the same hurdle, on this occasion to Braga.
In many ways, the transitory state of the club has in part been responsible for this inability to build upon previous season’s achievements. With the qualifying round for the Champions League in what is almost always a summer of transition for the club, it has left them found more than once and led to increased frustration for the supporters.
While Udinese are a relatively small, provincial club, success breeds expectation. The Champions League has been tantalisingly close for them on more than one occasion now but the decision to continue selling stars has possibly cost them their by now deserved reward. Pozzo though, has not changed direction.
Udinese now reportedly own a stake in around 120 players worldwide, while Pozzo has invested in Watford and Granada to act as nurseries for the plethora of young talent on the books of the Zebrette.
I found their story inspirational and something I could reproduce on an even grander scale in FM. I’ll keep you all posted.