Granada CF & Udinese Calcio: A Symbiotic Relationship

March 20, 2012 — by Suman1


There’s a full slate of mid-week La Liga fixtures this week–two matches today and the rest of La Liga playing tomorrow.  One of today’s matches has Barcelona hosting Granada.  It shouldn’t really be much of a contest–Barcelona hasn’t lost at home all season.  Perhaps the only reason to watch is that there’s a good chance Lionel Messi will pull even with or even surpass César as Barcelona’s all-time leading scorer.

But it’s also a chance to take a look at Granada’s unique arrangement with Italian club Udinese.  Granada essentially serves as a development squad for Udinese, with a large number of Granada’s squad over the past few years arriving on loan from Udinese.  From  AFootballReport piece on how this came about:

In 2009, Granada CF was a club in crisis, both competitively and financially. The club was on the brink of disappearing, despite a rich 80 year history. Gino Pozzo saw a money-making opportunity that would double as a way to develop Udinese talent, and in July 2009, the two clubs signed a partnership agreement so the majority of Granada’s squad would become Udinese-owned, while the Italian club could also send over its reserves and youngsters.

So what are the benefits for Gino Pozzo and Udinese Calcio? Well, the strategy is to use the exposure Granada gets in the Spanish league to showcase Udinese-owned talent that will, in turn, gain value in the transfer market. With Pozzo’s commitment to investing, Granada only seems likely to improve in the future. And Pozzo’s “buy cheap, gain exposure, sell high” philosophy is already working. Just imagine the possibilities for profit if Granada gets into the top flight in Spain.

The agreement came about via a Spanish football wheeler and dealer named Quique Pina, who took over as Granada’s president in 2009, in that time of crisis.  Although he had operated in Spain, he happened to be working for an Italian club at the time.  From a Sid Lowe SI column about Granada from last fall:

Pina was a former player (with Mérida), agent, and the owner of the short-lived Ciudad de Murcia — a club that was founded in 1999 and disappeared in 2007 when Pina effectively sold its Second Division place to the owner of Granada 74, which in turn, disappeared in 2009. At the time, Pena was working for Udinese in Italy. When Pina was asked to take over at Granada, the Pozzo family who own Udinese, allowed him to combine both jobs with their blessing. In fact, they supported Pina — and they supported his “other” new club. Really supported.

How did the Pozzo family and Udinese support Pina’s new venture in the south of Spain?  By essentially providing him with the fruits of their extensive and much-admired scouting system.  From a column in The Independent last summer, when Alexis Sanchez was the biggest transfer target in Europe, headlined “Super Sanchez is the latest big success story of little Udinese’s scouting system“:

Udine is a city of 100,000 in the misty terrain between Venice and the Alps. With crowds at the Stadio Friuli typically no more than 17,000, annual gate receipts are equivalent to those trousered by Manchester United after a single match at Old Trafford. According to the erudite football blog, Swiss Ramble, Udinese’s 2009-10 wage bill of €31m compared with €230m and €172m at Internazionale and Milan respectively. Only the club’s ageless talisman, Di Natale, has an annual salary exceeding €1m; Sanchez himself has apparently been taking home around €700,000. Internazionale, Milan and Juventus, meanwhile, all enjoyed annual revenues of over €200m. At €41m, Udinese did not match a single Premier League club. Income from television accounted for €26m; Internazionale’s was €138m.


When Giampaolo Pozzo bought Udinese, 25 years ago, the club was still prey to the maddening, odious debilities that have so retarded the Italian game. A betting scandal earned a points deduction, and relegation. But Pozzo devised a solution that has now secured 16 consecutive seasons in Serie A, and regular European competition.

Udinese built up a network of 50 scouts around the world, concentrated primarily in South America and Africa. They focused especially on youngsters from second-tier nations, and duly found Sanchez as a 16-year-old in Chile. He cost just €2m, but his sale this summer will merely consummate a policy that has already yielded a transfer surplus of €112m over the past decade.

Stars to have used Udinese as a stepping stone include David Pizarro, Asamoah Gyan, Vincenzo Iaquinta, Sulley Muntari, Andrea Dossena, Fabio Quagliarella and Gaetano D’Agostino. Unlike so many clubs with a reputation for grooming young talent, however, Udinese have consolidated their status to the extent that they can now provide Champions League football themselves.

Indeed, although Udinese fell to Arsenal in the qualifying stage and failed to make it to the Champions League group stage, they’ve remarkably repeated their domestic success of last season and are poised to get another shot at European competition.  They current sit 4th in Serie A, tied with Napoli (and that only thanks to two late goals last Sunday by Edinson Cavani that salvaged a draw for Napoli in Udine)–despite selling off not only Alexis Sanchez to Barcelona, but Swiss-Turkish midfielder Gökhan Inler to Napoli and Colombian defender Cristian Zapata to Villareal.

Swiss Ramble’s long piece on “Udinese Selling Their Way to the Top“, also from last summer following their impressive performance in Serie A, mentions the Granada component of their business plan:

Udinese have bolstered their strategy by forming a partnership with Granada, a club playing in the Spanish second division, where they loan youngsters that need playing time, such as the Ghanaian Jonathan Mensah. Given the Friuli club’s connections with the South American market, it is no coincidence that they opted for a club in a Spanish speaking country to park their players. In total, Granada currently have an amazing 14 players on loan from Udinese.

In fact, one of the logical results of Udinese’s approach is that they end up having an extremely large squad, so they absolutely need to loan out a vast number of players every season (earning them €3.6 million in 2010). Including the players at Granada, I make the current total 63, though I may well have lost count. This is the sort of “wheeler dealing” that makes Harry Redknapp look like a rank amateur.

That was last season, as Granada fought their way to promotion out of Segunda Division (a fuller account of that promotion, and in fact the story of their promotion from even lower tiers of Spanish football, can be found on yet another treatment of the Pozzo-Pina/Udinese-Granada story, titled “Granada’s Italian job“, on In Bed With Maradona.  Another account from the Spanish press, in Madrid-based sports daily AS is headlined “Pina y Pozzo: un tándem para reflotar equipos en crisis“)

This season, the number of players on Granada’s current squad (included below) on loan from Udinese is apparently down to five.  But there are six additional players on loan from other clubs, including three from Benfica, another club that Pina has strong ties with.  Again from Sid Lowe:

In total, 12 of Granada’s first team squad [last season] were Udinese players. It was good for the Italians because their squad members got playing time, the chance to develop and gain first team experience, while keeping them in the shop window for potential buyers; it was good for Granada because it helped them clinch a top division place at last — and on the cheap.

The relationship has continued. Of those in this year’s squad, Allan Nyom, Odion Ighalo, Jaime Romero, Benítez, Geijo and Diego Mainz are all on loan from Udinese in one capacity or another. Guilherme Siqueira has been signed from them. Meanwhile Pena’s relationship with Benfica has facilitated them bringing in four others from Portugal, three on loan and one on a free transfer. And at the other end of the scale, nine players have been loaned out to Cádiz. Where Pena is employed as the sporting director.

For the details, see Granada’s squad list below.  But to bring this back around to today’s match, we quote the opener to that IBWM piece for a nice bit of historical resonance:

October 28th 1973; quite the memorable date in Spanish football history. A young, straggly but immensely gifted Dutchman by the name of Johan Cruyff made his league debut for FC Barcelona, and the effect he’d have on football from that point on, not just in Spain, is one that still shapes the game today. This story, however, is not about the number 14 – it’s about the number 35. Barça’s opponents that day were Granada CF, a team who have spent 35 years away from the Spanish top flight…until now.

Granada’s squad list as of today (according to Wikipedia):

No. Position Player
1 Spain GK José Juan
2 Cameroon DF Allan Nyom (on loan from Udinese)
3 France DF Noé Pamarot
4 Spain MF Fran Rico
5 Spain DF Diego Mainz
6 Brazil DF Guilherme
7 Nigeria FW Odion Ighalo (on loan from Udinese)
8 Spain DF Iñigo López
9 Spain DF Borja Gómez (on loan from Karpaty Lviv)
10 Spain MF Jaime Romero (on loan from Udinese)
11 Spain MF Dani Benítez (on loan from Udinese)
12 Argentina FW Franco Jara (on loan from Benfica)
13 Spain GK Roberto
14 Spain MF Mikel Rico
15 Senegal DF Pape Diakhaté
16 Brazil FW Henrique (on loan from São Paulo)
17 Portugal MF Carlos Martins (on loan from Benfica)
18 Spain DF Manuel Lucena (captain)
19 Algeria MF Hassan Yebda
20 Nigeria FW Ikechukwu Uche (on loan from Villarreal)
21 Spain DF David Cortés
22 Switzerland FW Álex Geijo (on loan from Udinese)
23 Spain MF Abel
24 Spain MF Moisés Hurtado
25 Brazil GK Júlio César (on loan from Benfica)




What to watch this weekend: Feb 19-20

February 18, 2011 — by Sean

Champions League knockout play now committed to memory, we’re back into the domestic leagues with a touch of cup action in England, and the rest of the world getting on with earning points. As you may know, faithful readers, we tend to look to the Soccer Insider for our weekend tv listings, but seeing as so many of us watch matches through variously legal web outlets, we thought of expanding the list a bit this week. Fascinating, we know.

All times Eastern US. Click the teams to see on which channel the games are being shown in your country. Fancy!

Saturday, February 19th

7:30 am Chelsea vs Everton FA Cup The pick of the round. Everton has become a second-half-of-the-season team, and though they’ve lost the speedy little Bafana Bafana Steven Pienaar to Spurs, they’re still a dangerous side. Though saying that,  Evra is out with another injury just when he was getting back into goal-scoring form—he was the man who put the Toffees ahead in the initial fourth round meeting between the teams. Chelsea struggled to equalize and bring the match back to Stamford Bridge, but they have…now let’s see if they can put it away.

9:30 am Hamburger SV vs Werder Bremen Bundesliga The Nordderby (or North Derby) sees the two most successful sides in Bundesliga history meet to add to what has been so far a pretty evenly matched rivalry. Neither team is setting the league on fire this year, and Die Werderaner is a little too close to the relegation zone for comfort, but over the course of the teams’  139 meetings, 48 have gone to Hamburger, 50 to Werder, and the remaining 41 ended in draws.

10 am Nottingham Forest vs Cardiff City England Championship Two teams separated by two points battling for automatic promotion through to the Prem. A quick primer for those of you who ignore all but the Barclay’s-shielded teams, positions one and two of the Championship earn an immediately place in next season’s Premiership, while the third through sixth teams meet in playoff rounds to determine the final addition to the top flight. Currently Cardiff sit in second with Nottingham in fourth. This one promises to be a battle.

12 pm Valencia vs Sporting Gijón La Liga If for no other reason than that we enjoy the powerful mustache of Manuel Preciado. We’ll also be watching to see how well Los Che rebound from the midweek draw with Schalke. Sporting Gíjon will look to surprise another top team after having drawn with Barça last week.

12:15 pm Manchester United vs Crawley Town FA Cup We can’t imagine this will be too much of a match, but good for you Crawley Town! The gate receipts and television earnings for this match alone will be enough to keep the tiny club afloat for a couple more seasons (they’d been in administration in the 90s and nearly went kaput mid 00s). Other fun fact, this match will see the meeting of the red devils and the red devils.

12:30 pm FSV Mainz 05 vs Bayern München Bundesliga Bayern started the season slowly but have now climbed to third (though still thirteen points behind league-leaders Borussia Dortmund). Die Roten have had a rough go with Ribery and Robben both out for significant spells due to injury, though they are slated to play together come this weekend even though Robben pulled up in training. Mainz sit just two points behind the visiting side in fifth. This is a squad with a long history of not playing in the top flight, but the last decade has been something quite different for the team, which saw them playing top flight ball 5 non-consecutive years. Now they’re challenging for a place in Europe after starting the season with eight wins.

1 pm Olympique Marseille vs Saint-Étienne Ligue 1 We never point to the French league, so in the spirit of fairness let’s all have a quick look at two teams fighting for a place in Europe. Marsielle host Man United in Champions League play next week so would normally look to rest a few key starters, but the less-monied St. Étienne side are only a few points back from last year’s Ligue 1 champions, and though they haven’t produced the kind of quality on display in the mid 60s-70s or even the 90s (when they developed the likes of Laurent Blanc, and Michel Platini) they are sure to put up a solid front at home.

7:15 pm Racing Club vs Boca Juniors Primera División It’s the start of the clausura (the Argentine season is split in two, with a start “apertura” and a closing “clausura” season), and the Boca boys are in last place after one game on a -3 goal difference. It’s sure to turn around, there is plenty of time to find the top of the table, but if you’re going to commit to some league play why not start at the beginning?

Sunday, February 20th

7:30 am Celtic vs Rangers Scottish Premier League Old firm derby: A massive tie with plenty of history behind it, either of these teams is generally a lock for the league title, and this year Celtic (playing at home) are a comfortable five points clear of their Glaswegian neighbours. Rangers being the Protestant side and Celtic having Catholic ties, the derby tends to dredge up all the conflict between subsections of the rival systems…any excuse to beat each other with a bat:

The Old Firm rivalry fuels many assaults and many deaths on Old Firm Derby days; an activist group that monitors sectarian activity in Glasgow has reported that on Old Firm weekends, admissions to hospital emergency rooms increase ninefold over normal levels, and journalist Franklin Foer noted that in the period from 1996 to 2003, eight deaths in Glasgow were directly linked to Old Firm matches, and hundreds and thousands of assaults.

10 am Fulham vs Bolton FA Cup We expect this will be a very even game, both teams being very organized in back and having a very even midfield between them. We’ll be tuning in from Stateside as some US faves (in the form of Stuart Holden and Clint Dempsey) will be facing off in knockout action. Stu, well known for his hairstyle, has been both breaking attacks and serving the ball well, while Clint has moved with some success into a central striker role (classic #9 stuff).

3 pm Barcelona vs Athletic Bilbao La Liga You may have heard about Barça’s loss this week. Well they’re back at home and we’re wondering how they’ll react. Puyol is due back to shore up the center of their defense, and, well, what more can you say except that loss will probably just be treated as a blip. Though…of three teams to have never been relegated from the first division, the third is Athletic Bilbao (the first two Madrid and Barça, of course). Also, before their Basque neighbors started offering citizenship to foreign players to get around the max-three non-nationals on a team, Bilbao was a serious force, handing Barça a 12–1 loss, their worst ever defeat. There’s a lot of pride behind this match-up. Could be a shock or a blowout.


Mourinho on the Truth About Cats and Dogs

December 12, 2010 — by Suman

Mourinho y su perro

Among the football headlines in Spain this weekend: “Con perro cazas; con gato cazas, pero menos“–aphoristic words of wisdom gleaned from the Jose Mourinho’s press conference yesterday, which translates roughly to “You hunt with a dog; with a cat you hunt, but less so.”  Remarkably, this isn’t the first time the Special One has made the news for canine-related matters.

The comments about hunting with cats vs dogs had something to do with the injury to Higuain (el perro, we presume), which has left Benzema as el gato–Mourinho’s only option at striker.

Real Madrid mouthpiece Marca transcribed some Mourinho’s monologue, which gives the context:

Soy entrenador y entreno a los jugadores que tengo a mi disposición. El tema del fichaje es un tema de la gente de arriba. Yo ya dije que era difícil afrontar la temporada sólo con Benzema e Higuaín, ahora sólo con Benzema será aún más difícil. Si vas a cazar y sólo tienes un gato, tendrás que salir con el gato porque solo no puedes ir. Si vas con un buen perro, cazas más. Si vas con un gato, cazas menos pero cazas.

Watch and listen to some bits of the press conference:


“Mourinho Finally Gets Mad”…well, un poco (with video)

September 29, 2010 — by Suman

"Estoy loco como el infierno y yo no voy a soportarlo más!"

I must admit, I am falling for the yet-nascent psychodrama that is Mourinho in Madrid (“MiM” from now on). So I eagerly clicked thru when online footy mag‘s La Liga Loca blog led with the headline “Mourinho Finally Gets Mad, and kicked off the post with some purple prose:

For months now, the Spanish press have been performing their solemn duty of trying to make José Mourinho go completely postal, but sadly with little success.

However, on Monday evening, it was joy to the world and ding dong merrily on high as, after a trying period of four press conferences a week for the Bernabeu boss, hours and hours of provoking, probing and pressing finally brought some decent results – not only did Mourinho completely lose his rag, he also found it again and then set it on fire…


Hércules Hércules! Shocker at the Nou Camp

September 13, 2010 — by Suman1

Valdez puts Hercules up 2-0 over Barcelona

The shocking result from this past weekend’s La Liga fixtures was Barcelona losing on the Camp Nou to newly promoted Hércules by a score of 2-0, with Paraguayan international Nelson Valdez scoring both goals.  It was certainly an unexpected result, as Sid Lowe writes in the the Guardian:

Barcelona are the league champions; Herculés are making their first appearance in the first division since 1997 – in fact, they’ve spent just two of the last 26 years in the top flight. Hell, they’ve spent half of the last decade in the regionalised, four group, eighty-team Second Division B. And Barcelona had not been beaten by a newly promoted side for a decade.

Barcelona had won 17 out of 18 at home last season, drawing the other. They had not lost a league game at home for 16 months – and that didn’t really count, what with it being a who-cares-we’ve-already-won-the-title defeat against Osasuna. You have to go back to February 2009 for their last ‘real’ defeat at home – and that was a miracle. Since Pep Guardiola made his managerial debut in La Liga they have not once been beaten by two goals in the league. And Valdez, the goalscorer who doesn’t score, was making his La Liga debut. 2-0? To Herculés? With Valdez getting them both? On Catalonia’s official holiday, too? No chance.

Except that the ‘diada’ marks the bloodiest of Catalan defeats. Except that Herculés have a bit of a habit of this. The last time they were in the first division, back in 1996-97, they beat Barcelona twice. 3-2 at Camp Nou and 2-1 at the Rico Pérez – the game that effectively cost Bobby Robson’s side the title, handing it to Fabio Capello’s Madrid. Thirteen years later, history might just have repeated itself. Last night’s saw the two-point advantage over José Mourinho’s Madrid disappear; Barça now trail by a point.

Click thru to read Lowe’s whole essay–starting with an account of Valdez’s journey from Paraguay to Werder Bremen to Borussia Dortmund and now to Hércules.

Here is video of Valdez’s two goals–the first off a scrambling attack on Barca’s goal following a Herculés free kick in the 26th minute, and the 2nd a clinical finish off a rolling cross from the right side in the 59th minute (note how Valdez pulls up his run at the top of the box and hangs in that unmarked space):

Though this more complete highlights reel seems to show that it was Barcelona that dominated play and created many more chances–numerous near misses by the likes of Villa, Pedro, and Pique (coming up from defense for an aerial attack):

Things get even more interesting for Pep Guardiola’s side this coming week: they’ll get no rest, as they’ll be back on the Camp Nou tomorrow, hosting Panathinaikos in the first set of Champions League fixtures; and then they travel to Madrid next weekend, to play the top team in Spain.

No, not the overyhyped and overpaid collection of stars at the Bernabeu (who at least managed to finally score a goal this past weekend, at home against Osasuna), but rather the guys crosstown at Atletico Madrid.  Led by Uruguayan star Diego Forlan, Atletico Madrid sits atop the table with two wins after two games (Valencia being the only other side with six points).  Forlan has picked up where he left off in South Africa, scoring 3 goals in the first two matches.  Atletico Madrid sits atop the table (Valencia being the only other side with six points).