Colney Chat | Filippo Giraldi
By Kevin Affleck
Could you name Watford FC’s Technical Director without the aid of a match programme or a glance online? No – thought not. And that’s just how he likes it, really. Meet Filippo Giraldi.
For someone with such an influential role – he was the driving force behind the signing of M'Baye Niang and is the one helping to mine young gems like Aly Malle and Adalberto Penaranda – he's a modest, humble man, one who prefers to remain in the shadows. He's not after baubles or bouquets.
"I never worry about the job title," said Giraldi. "It's more what I can do that is important. The job title doesn't mean anything – it's about being a person of value."
Gino Pozzo and Scott Duxbury clearly value the unheralded and unseen work Giraldi does in co-ordinating the small army of scouts the Hornets have, particularly those abroad. They elevated him from chief scout to technical director last year. "As a chief scout you travel more and make lists of players," he said. "As a technical director I'm more involved with the deals. It's not the part I'm crazy about, the economic side, but it's part of the job and I'm happy with it."
Giraldi is much more comfortable doing the hard yards, watching games, studying training and fielding calls from scouts. He's a doer. So trusted is he and so ingrained in the fabric of the club that he was the one who watched the Hornets on behalf of the Pozzo family six months before their takeover in 2012 was ratified.
"I was working in Italy [with Brescia] and I was called to see if I would be interested in evaluating a team," Giraldi said. "Gino was interested in two clubs and I started to follow both but then it was clear Watford was going to be the team. I watched them home and away and analysed the group, so then when the deal was finalised, I joined the club and had lots of information on the players and understood the Championship."
The 42-year-old has been part of the inner circle ever since, part of the key decision makers who convene every day round the circular table in the top right-hand corner of the canteen. "I think we have a very good structure at this club," says Giraldi. "It's a very vertical structure with Gino and Scott.
"Everyone knows what their job is and what they have to do. Gino is probably one of the most intelligent men in the world of football. It's very easy to speak with him as he understands football and when is the right time to do things. Watford is one of the best places to work in football."
The absence of layers to the management structure means Watford can push the button quickly when Giraldi gets a call from one of his eagle-eyed scouts.
"We speak on a daily basis," he says. "The scouts know they can call me if something interesting happens or a player comes up. Once they see something incredible they call me during the game. That's the beauty of the Pozzo system. If I see a player I like, I call him and he says 'Go on'. We don't need a board meeting.
"We can go and close the deal very quickly – that is why we are very effective. I like to have the final view most of the time just because I know what our team is about. But if it's a young player, we know that being quick is being effective. We can close a deal quickly on a young prospect."
Giraldi is reluctant to reveal names, job titles and even locations of his scouts as that would be giving away trade secrets of the unique Pozzo model. "It's like a spy story," Giraldi jokes. "I don't like to say their names or where they are based, but I can tell you we cover everywhere. The only continent we don't cover permanently is Africa. We have a good contact in Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana and send someone there when there is a big tournament."
It's safe to say then that the net is cast far and wide in the mining of players of all ages. It's unlikely there is a highly-promising teenage player on the planet who Watford or Udinese are not aware of.
"It's a big structure," Giraldi explains. "We have main scouts and then others who just work for us on a matchday. The most important thing is we cover the most important zones, like South America. We have a head of recruitment there. We speak to him on a daily basis. He will help us more in the long-term. We cannot sign the top players from South America so we find young players." Just like Udinese discovered Alex Sanchez in Chile and Penaranda in Venezuela.
Penaranda, 19, will be integrated into the Watford squad as soon as he is granted a work permit. He was signed 12 months ago in a classic Watford window. He was signed for a rainy day while the likes of Nordin Amrabat and Costel Pantilimon were brought in for the here and now. Mario Suarez is evidence they don't always get it right.
"We try to get the best out of every transfer window," said Giraldi. "We can always try harder but I'm focussed on going out watching players and choosing players. I need to have a technical opinion on every player. I will make mistakes, like every human being, but I try to work harder to reduce the mistakes. I think we have a very good group of players here."
So much so that Amrabat, arguably the player of the season before he got injured, has a fight on his hands to get back in the starting XI. You've also got Roberto Pereyra to fit back into the mix next season. The upgrading and fine tuning of the squad by Giraldi and co. has left Walter Mazzarri as the most well-resourced coach in the club's history.
"I try to help the coach," said Giraldi, who is very hands on. He regularly runs the rule over training, attends team meetings and is a presence in the dressing room. "I'm close with the Head Coach as that is what I love to do. I will do my best to help them in every aspect. We will have confrontation but we want to have one voice from the club to the coach.
"I think every coach who worked with us can be happy with us. We respect their decision making but we do challenge and question them as we are here every day. I am happy with Walter. He likes the confrontation and is happy to change if he sees things are not going well."
When the Hornets do change the Head Coach and stress test their model, the recruitment knowledge, the scouting network and the all-important relationship with agents doesn't go with the outgoing coach. That remains in the building under lock and key with the likes of Giraldi who ensures continuity.
"Lots of technical directors and sporting directors stay on the coach's side as that can be an easy way for them to have a career. If the coach moves, they will go with him. I am clear since the beginning that I am a club person, a club man," says Giraldi.
You can tell that by watching just how animated he gets during a game. "It's terrible," he says. "I really suffer a lot. Thank God I have no camera on me. I really enjoy it, I live with great passion. I love the club and I feel the shirt."
Putting new names on the back of the shirts, though, is where Giraldi really comes into his own, where he earns his corn.
"Recruitment is crucial," he says. "We are fully active and we are doing more than planning ahead of summer – we are already identifying players we want. We have money but we must be clever in spending that money. It would be stupid to go and spend money on players who do not deserve that money.
“Sometimes we have to do business and spend a bit more just to close a deal and solve a technical issue with the team. We have a list of 10 players minimum per position but we are not Real Madrid and sign whoever we want. We try but sometimes it's difficult. I'm happy when we can sign our third or fourth choice. That means we have done a good job."
"THREE TOP PLAYERS FOR WATFORD" - Read more from Giraldi on Aly Malle, Adalberto Penaranda and Isaac Success.