Over the past few months the board have been very active in making contact and holding discussions with a number of people, which has included attending executive meetings, meeting senior employees of the club and members of the board and maintaining close links with the media. We have been active in trying to make sure that all promised payments have been made and that developments (such as the new pitch and the SW corner) are fully funded, whilst at the same time trying to ensure that funds for more peripheral activities (such as possible future revenue streams) are not likely to cause short or long-term financial problems.
In this respect we have been seeking to increase the transparency in the operation of the club and its dealings and in so doing we have also had several discussions with Mr Bassini.
We were not prepared however to fuel any of the rumours, particularly since we have had a reasonably successful season and we are continually trying to maintain stability in the club after considerable instability in many ways.
It is always difficult at a time of rumour and speculation and we have been investigating the rumours for substance, including speaking to Mr Bassini. The culmination of the rumours you will now have seen as emerging stories in the press regarding the possibility/probability of a change in ownership of the club with the new owner likely to be Signor Pozzo who owns Udinese in Serie A and Granada in the Spanish first division. There is still uncertainty about this and it is not a done deal at the time of writing. This is a fluid and rapidly changing situation after a period of comparative calm on the surface.
Will this be good or bad for the club?
At the moment there has been no sale although it may be imminent. If the club is sold to Sr Pozzo we will have an owner with a general interest in Football. There is a strong possibility that he would want to bring some of Udinese’s younger players on loan to Watford, which is what he has done with Granada. This has implications for Sean Dyche’s control over placer recruitment and the academy development of young players. Two or three talented young Italians who have to fight for their place in the team may have advantages in introducing players who have a high technical proficiency. However, if they have to be played under instructions from the owner, who currently seems to see Udinese as the focus of his operations, then this would be bad and we would simply become a nursery club for Udinese. It should be noted that Granada just missed relegation last season. It is also unknown what he would think about the community involvement of the club and any withdrawal of support from the Community Trust would be a serious undermining of the role and position of the club in the Community, something that Watford FC is rightly admired for.
It is unclear just how much money Mr Bassini has put into the club and there is considerable secrecy over the finances. There are indications that some of the conditions of the purchase of the club by Mr Bassini have not been met in full, e.g. delays in payments and deadlines. While this in itself is not necessarily a cause for concern, it is indicative of having to operate very close to financial limits and it is possible that the operation has been financed through player sales. Again this is not necessarily a cause for concern because it is fundamentally what we were doing before Mr Bassini took over – but previously there was complete transparency, which as sole owner Mr Bassini does not need to embrace. However, such failures could trigger action by the bond holders to take back the club or to take control over key assets against which the sale has been secured, such as the ground. It is also of concern that if there is a cash flow problem that the pitch replacement could not be completed or the club could acquire a debt that it could not pay on time.
The Trust Board have been aware of events unfolding having been in close contact with the club and having spoken with Mr Bassini. While rumour and speculation should not be a reason to react prematurely we have been monitoring the situation and have been in regular contact with a number of key people. We will be using our influence to try and ensure that any deal will protect the club and its interests. If there is a new owner we would seek a very early meeting with the new owner and/or his representatives and we would want to see members of the current board retained on a future board to ensure continuity and representatives who would champion the Watford Way and what the club stand for.
We need an owner who will buy in to the values of the club and provide an extended period of financial and organisational stability. The Trust will do everything in its power to ensure that this is what happens.