It’s never been easy for Watford football club’s loyal supporters over the last four years with the club struggling to get out of mid-table positions or lower after an immediate return to the Premier League was on the cards in the 2007-2008 season. Under the shrewd leadership of Aidy Boothroyd, they led the championship for much of that season before falling to a play-off spot and a 6-1 loss to Hull City buried the hopes and the excitement of what could have been a wonderful season for The Hornets.
Watford have struggled to look back since then. The departure of Boothroyd was a setback and an exodus of key figures in Tommy Smith and Jay DeMerit didn’t helped matters with Watford failing to finish in the top ten. Current Liverpool manager Brendon Rogers and ex-players Malky Mackay and Sean Dyche were given run ins for the post over the last three years with Dyche coming off the best with an 11th place finish last season. But what Dyche did was to stick to a policy of bringing in home grown players and to construct a solid base upon which a Watford side could be built around much along the lines of Hornet’s legend Graham Taylor. Mariappa and Nosworthy were made strongholds at the back with Jonathan Hogg, John Eustace and Marvin Soldell holding forth in the middle. Goals were built around the strikeforce of Englishman Troy Deeney and Chris Iwelumo. With things starting to shape up, it came as a surprise when new owner Giampaolo Pozzo installed Gianfranco Zola in place of Dyche.
The Italian Job
An astute businessman, Italian national Giampaolo Pozzo is better known in the footballing world as the owner of Serie A side Udinese Calcio and Spanish club Granada. When he took over the administration of his home team, Udinese were a struggling side in Serie B troubled by problems of illicit deals and betting scandals. Pozzo went about instilling a new philosophy in the club and made incisive purchases to take the team out of its miseries. In came the talented but lesser known names of Sulley Muntari, Alexis Sanchez, Cristián Zapata and Gokhan Inler to name a few for very little money and they were instrumental in taking Udinese to the top flight of the Italian football system.
Spanish side Granada have been going through a similar paradigm shift in their history and Pozzo’s takeover of Watford was greeted with much excitement and hope last summer. After all his models have been quite successful in Italy and Spain, his arrival at Vicarage Road was expected to lead to the scripting of a similar story.
The Pozzo family though seem to be working on a different kind of model at their latest acquisition. At Udinese, lesser known talents were bought to form a side that could compete in Serie A. Even though the most of these players have been sold to bigger sides at extravagant rates, the policy of picking up talents from all over the world remains the same.
At Watford, the Pozzo family seems to have altered their model a bit bringing in players on loan from their ‘sister clubs’ to mark the beginning of the new regime at the club. Names such as Fernando Forestieri, Steve Leo Beleck, Matej Vydra, Marco Cassetti, Almen Abdi, Christian Battocchio, Joel Ekstrand and Jean-Alain Fanchone arrived on loan from Udinese while Daniel Pudil and Ikechi Anya came in from Granada. Probably the most important change that was introduced was that of bringing in Gianfranco Zola to take over the helms and manage a newly assembled squad. Zola, better known for his days at Chelsea as a player is widely credited to be a brilliant tactician both on and off the pitch.
The altered model seems to be working brilliantly and after 38 games in the league, Watford find themselves 3rd in the table and lead the league in the tally of goals scored with 72. They have been one of most attractive sides to watch this season entertaining crowds with slick passing and demolishing sides with some impressive counter attacks reminding Vicarage Road patrons of the days when John Barnes, Reilly, Johnston and Callaghan doned their colours. Jonathan Hogg and Troy Deeney have been quite good for The Hornets’ this season but the most impressive and instrumental have been Watford’s battalion of loan players. Matej Vydra has racked in 20 goals so far while midfielders Almen Abdi, Fernando Forestieri, Daniel Pudil and Ikechi Anya have complemented him well from the middle of the pitch. The back four has seen loanees Marco Cassetti, Nathaniel Chalobah and Joel Ekstrand who have dominated appearances this season.
Overall, the Pozzo formula has been quite successful at their latest product, and with Watford in contention for an automatic promotion spot, things are looking quite bright. Even if they fail to secure an automatic promotion, they will be strong favourites to gain promotion through the play-offs considering their impressive display on the pitch this season. But the question of what the future holds in store will nag even the staunchest of fans. The influx of so many loan players into the squad has angered many in the division with managers and pundits voicing their displeasure quite openly.
With so many of the loan players putting in impressive performances and adopting to life in what is arguably the most competitive 2nd tier in Europe’s domestic leagues, they could be recalled to their parent clubs next season to boost their own chances to play in the Serie A and in the La Liga. This could very well leave a gaping hole in the squad’s performance considering the regulars under Sean Dyche haven’t had that many opportunities to contribute to their team’s success. It can be argued that the new owners will pump in enough investments to bring in a new batch of talents that will aid in Watford’s survival should they get promoted to the Premier League or in another battle to get promotion.
Premier League’s latest survival models have been largely based on sides that have been built on players who have contributed to their side’s promotions to the Premier League. Swansea and Norwich last season and Southampton in the current season are some very good examples to consider. On the other hand teams that have tried to field a complete new side in the Premier League have struggled.
Watford football club has entertained everyone this season and their fans quite rightly deserve to see their side play against the best of England come August. Giampaolo Pozzo’s policy for Watford will be crucial for the club’s future. If the current players are granted an extended stay, Vicarage Road can witness a successful side being formed. Anything otherwise will see Watford being a training institute for Udinese and Granada.