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Just the Jobi 13/06/2007

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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This article’s not really about the tremendously positive recruitment of Jobi McAnuff; I just noted that the “open goal” headline above seemed to have gone untaken…

It’s significant, however, that his fee represents the most we’ve shelled out on a player since we were last in the position of floating down from the Premiership on parachute payments – in terms of a transfer fee, at any rate. And despite having tempted fate at the start of the season just gone by insisting that 1999-2000 would bear no resemblance to what was to come (ultimately it did, in one key detail in particular), it perhaps makes sense to reflect back on the following season when, as now, we had some justification for looking ahead with optimism.

Nestled in the middle of a somewhat eventful six-year spell it’s tempting to overlook GT’s final season. In the previous three campaigns we had first won the Division Three championship (or whatever it was called back then, I lose track), then the play-offs in theatrical style followed by immediate relegation. Post-Taylor, of course, came the Vialli catastrophe, and in the following season, Ray Lewington’s first, the financial fall-out with a Cup Semi Final to boot.

But 2000/01 contained its fair share of highs and lows. The start of the season saw us optimistic, as described by ig’s season preview which nonetheless contained ominous portents of what was to follow the next summer… the squad had been exposed in the Premiership, not only by two promotions in two seasons on the back of relatively modest investment but also by a calamitous run of injuries. The anticipation was that the injured players would return, and that the eye-catching recruitment of Allan Nielsen and Espen Baardsen would leave us with a squad more than capable of pushing for an instant return.

It didn’t quite work out like that. Nielsen probably goes down as a success, even at £2.25m, but the same can’t really be said of Baardsen whose occasional strong performances were too isolated. And as for the injuries… Johnno didn’t feature until the end of the season, Nicky Wright made one forlorn appearance in the Cup defeat to Birmingham, Peter Kennedy didn’t play until December and Ben Iroha never came back at all. Gifton did make a return, but never with the devastating effect that had been hoped for and anticipated, Allan Smart barely featured and Nordin Wooter’s frills-to-consequence ratio got worse, not better, in the face of less stiff competition. Even Heidar Helguson, encouragingly single-minded in his half-season in the top flight, betrayed a fragile self-confidence that took him a couple of years to get over.

It didn’t start badly though. We won twelve and drew three of our first fifteen league games, and whilst that astonishing record which kept us on the heels of runaway Fulham may have slightly flattered our performances there were some terrific moments in that run too. Sheffield United were one of several sides demolished at Vicarage Road, one of eight three-plus goal hauls by mid-October. Away from home an extraordinary 4-3 win at Blackburn will live long in the memory of those who braved the petrol blockades to witness it, whilst a 2-0 victory at Nottingham Forest ranks amongst the best team performances of Taylor’s second spell.

And then, just as dramatically, it all fell apart. Some might point towards the effortless canter with which a Manchester United reserve side featuring now familiar names like Greening, Brown and O’Shea knocked us out of the League Cup, but I think we might have ridden that. An ugly, joyless defeat at home to a struggling Sheffield Wednesday was the sucker punch we didn’t see coming. We had finally overhauled Fulham and were eight points clear of third-placed Birmingham with a game in hand. By the time we lost 5-0 to Fulham at an icy Craven Cottage on Boxing Day, eight games but only a single point later – a run that featured a defeat to an appalling Huddersfield side that ranks amongst the worst performances in living memory – we had slipped to eighth and never refound that momentum.

As for the rest of it… well we won a few games, mercifully, but lost a few too – the sorts of games , West Brom away, Grimsby away, that we always seem to lose but that you can’t really get away with if you’re really intent on getting promoted. Nonetheless we were still hovering on the edge of the play-offs when Taylor announced his end-of-season departure at the end of March, thanks in no small part to Tommy Mooney turning attacking the far post into an art form for much of the season. Somewhat inevitably we tailed off and finished ninth some five points off the play-offs. The final game of the season at Burnley was as miserable a trip as many have made, even by Turf Moor standards; we saw GT off as the locals gurned behind him post pitch-invasion but by that point we had witnessed not only our traditional Turf Moor defeat, but a side much more limited than our own leap-frogging us into seventh. As if to rub salt into the wound, the end-of-season silver lining Lee Cook was carried off having caught his studs, not to play again until the end of the following March.

We had a talented side that season, a side that ought to have made a much better fist of things really, even in retrospect. That the side capsized owed something to Taylor’s impending departure perhaps, his understandable and utterly forgivable lack of stomach for the rebuilding job that was to go so horrifically wrong under Vialli. But it owed an awful lot to the side suddenly, after three years of first irrepressible success, then success in spite of expectation, then a tiresome, galling, but not unpredictable failure, experiencing the weight of expectation for the first time in the face of a drop in form.

For the first time in years, certainly for the first time under Boothroyd and probably the first time since Vialli, Watford will be expected to win games next season. The signs are good – we’ve held on to most of our main men at the time of writing – Ben Foster’s inevitable departure notwithstanding. We’ve recruited well so far, with the suggestion of more to come. The spirit that defined the promotion season was admirably maintained throughout the Prem campaign – we were regularly outclassed, often beaten, but rarely before we stepped out onto the pitch. And yet here’s a new challenge, something Betty’s not had to face before.

A lot will depend on how well he meets it.

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Comments»

1. petebradshaw - 14/06/2007

Open goal headline? Nah, you nicked it from Vital Football http://www.watford.vitalfootball.co.uk/sitepage.asp?a=67676

2. Matt Rowson - 14/06/2007

Oh. Bugger.

3. brokin_elefant - 15/06/2007

Maybe it’s just me. But Jay DeMerit isn’t on the club website player profiles. Is this cause for concern? i.e. Is Jay on his way out of the club?

4. Matt Rowson - 15/06/2007

Possibly, I guess… an outside bet on someone to be picked up. But I’d put the website thing down to incompetence… Ben Foster’s still listed, after all.

5. Mike S - 15/06/2007

Could be our downfall that we’re expected to win games, suggests the article.
Handy, then, that we start off at Molineux, where surely no-one who’s trudged through that subway time after winless time would ever expect us to win.
But you’re right, and if this doesn’t go well, then Aidy Boothroyd will find out who his friends really are.
I wonder if Graham Simpson’s one of them…

6. billyo - 16/06/2007

Infact the start is pretty tough. We all know what momentum can do either positive or negative. Those first 5 games againts Wolves, Blades, Leicester, Ipswich and Southampton will be very important. I’ll be very happy to see us in the top 10 following that lot.

7. Paul - 16/06/2007

Co-incidently last night a friend said to me that this season could be the one that really shows Boothroyds worth. Let’s hope the weight of expectation isn’t too heavy and that unrealistic expectations from Watford fans are kept in check.

Looking forward to seeing McAnuff tearing up opposition full-backs next season and hoping that we can get some much needed help in center mid-field as Williams and Francis are out for a long time.

8. Apperley 'Orn - 18/06/2007

Judging by what Aidy said in his Q&A sessions on the ‘fishal site, we won’t be seeing a new central midfielder. His response to the question asking if we would get a playmaker in to cover for Williams’ injury he said that we have four players fighting for two places. I guess he means Mahon, Bang-Bang, Rinaldi and Williamson.

Expectations will be high, rightly so though. We have, on paper at least, a very strong Div 2 squad and if we get off to a bad start then Aidy will feel under more pressure than he ever has. I think we will be fine, but we could all do with a good start to lift the gloom of last season – I didn’t enjoy a great deal of that.

9. FP - 19/06/2007

The signing of McAnuff is a good one, but it is a season too late.
All the management confidence of a year ago was seen as just hot air by those of us who vividly remember the mistakes / lessons of 99-00 and we were shouted down by the happy clappy brigade who knew Aidy could do no wrong.

Aidy is still in the black when it comes to his balance sheet with me, but his arrogance last season about him knowing what he was doing (despite having had no experience as a player, coach or manager at that level) really disturbed me and by the end of the season he regularly mused on the things he could have done differently. They were the very things certain fans were screaming for him to do 10 months before.

Lessons learnt and time to move on, but as importantly as what happens on the pitch, this is the season for the events off the pitch to really sort themselves out. Russos, WO, Simmons, the unnerving presence of Ashcroft & co, top city lawyers, the every increasing influence of a former Football in the Community officer. These are the things every single one of us should be casting their eyes closely over.

Fans and shareholders have been fobbed off for years with dimwitted statements about how the club is succeeding off the pitch. However, what we know for a fact is that according to last years figures, we are not losing less money per year. Boardroom strife has recently lead to 2 chaps – heralded in preceeding months and years – being forced out despite owning nearly 30% of the club. Over 20 employees of the club administrative staff have left since Ashton took over as CE. The website is like Pravda and they threaten to sue the local paper. Need I go on.

This is a very big season for the club I love.

10. mike - 19/06/2007

no bang-bang anymore

11. DW - 20/06/2007

I agree with much that has been written and personally have found it hard to find a connection with the club since the removal of Lewington but I similarly don’t understand the “binary type” argument that we should have spent a lot more last summer. I think our modest investment 12 months ago was very sensible, partly because I wanted to give those players who got us there a chance and didn’t want to disrupt the obvious “Espirit de Corps” but principally because I never want to be in the financial position we found ourselves in 2002. Watford are a small provincial club who have spent most of their history in the lower divisions and I can only quote GT who thought it no shame if Watford became a yo-yo club. Promotion last year resulted in the survival of our club for the foreseeable future, an investment in the ground which means we won’t be moving to an out of town “soulless” bowl and the expectation of a top 10 finish in Division 2.

12. Al - 21/06/2007

DW – I think you have absolutely hit the nail on the head. It seems like only yesterday that people with buckets were asking for our spare change.

To be able to support my local club, swerving between Div 1 and 2, year in year out is just fine by me.

Leeds, Forest, Bradford, Franchise, Oxford even… how lucky are we. RIP Scarborough.

13. Mark - 12/07/2007

Shame we haven;t be able to bring anyone else in…

14. Adam J - 25/07/2007

Agreed. But rumour has it that we might be on the verge of a couple of new signing. And all that stuff about Darius leaving to either Sheffield, Sheffield or Preston. I dunno about that one, i just reckon if he goes he goes, if he stays he stay. Doesn’t bother me either way. Might be nice to get a little extra cash in I guess

15. Dave Jackson - 25/07/2007

Anyone else think that signing Jobi might be the making of Macca in a “last chance saloon” kind of way? I relly hope so as I’m not sure he’s ever had a long enough run to prove his worth.

16. Ian Grant - 26/07/2007

No, Dave, I don’t. The bottom line is that McNamee’s never had a long run in the side because his short runs haven’t merited it. He’s been outstanding occasionally…and then, just as you were heralding the coming of his time, he’s been a complete waste of space, and he’s disappeared back to the reserves once again. No manager will commit to a player whose contributions are so fitful, who’s capable of disappearing so completely when he’s not on his game.

Simply, he’s had his chances and he hasn’t taken them. If there were other clubs knocking on our door, he’d be heading off to one of them. But they’ve seen what we’ve seen: that he’s got talent, but that he’s incapable of applying it consistently.

17. Mark - 26/07/2007

“But rumour has it that we might be on the verge of a couple of new signing”

That was said last week though.

Hate to lose Bouazza and Henderson without getting replacements is but they ofcourse must be better than what we have already.

18. Colin Wiggins - 27/07/2007

One of my favourite WFC moments EVER came in the 3-0 win against Wolves in Aidy’s first season, when we were totally outplayed in the first half and should have been about ten-nil down by half-time. By the second half, when we were probably already 2-0 up and the Wolves heads had dropped (how untypical!) Macca perfored a moment of pure magic. Macca had the ball at his feet on the edge of the box and a great hulking brute of a defender was lunging into flatten him. For a brief moment Macca, who weighs about 7 stone remember, looked to be mincemeat but somehow (don’t ask me how, just somehow) he did the slightest shimmy and pulled the ball back twelve inches or so with the sole of his boot. The g.h.b of a defender was already committed and just kept on sliding, and sliding, at approx. 100mph and had it not been for the advertising hoardings he would have ended up under the Bushey arches. Ker-runch! It was just such a perfect David and Goliath moment and symbolised so much about ‘little’ Watford and the so-called ‘big’ teams, that I shall never forget it, whatever happens to the wee man. That match was also so hilariously unjust in terms of the balance of play, yet so absolutely right in terms of the Absolute Moral Truths of the Universe, that I shall always remember Macca with great affection, for that moment alone.

19. Mike P - 27/07/2007

101 games for Watford, albeit 60 as a substitute. For me, that’s enough time to prove oneself.


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