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Glorious Summer? 09/06/2011

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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It’s unrealistic to expect football supporters of any club to take a newcomer on trust.

Supporting a football club is such a peculiar, irrational thing. More like being part of a family than being a “customer”, certainly few bodies of customers in other industries are simultaneously as loyal and demanding.

And suspicious. The status quo at board level at Watford was clearly untenable prior to Laurence Bassini’s takeover. Much as Lord Ashcroft appeared to support the business responsibly, a club where all three major shareholders want out is not one destined for epic progress, whatever the achievements of others. So someone had to come in, and that someone, whoever they were, would be parachuting themselves into a position as the head of the family. Of course there was going to be apprehension.

Large amounts of cash can sugar the pill, admittedly, but I’m not sure how many Manchester City fans would consider that they trusted that club’s wealthy benefactors. Another story. Certainly, in Bassini’s case, a history that involved bankruptcy, failed businesses, and no obvious basis or motivation for taking on Watford didn’t help his cause.

“Judge me by my actions,” was an early plea, and a wholly reasonable one. Certainly, one can only support Bassini’s stated intentions: sustainability, in particular. No starry-eyed fool this one, chasing the Premiership dream whither so many have floundered before leaving twitching corpses of football clubs in their wake. The development of the ground, the East Stand, the South West corner. Tick, tick. The Red Lion, the pitch. All good.

And we’ll continue to hold him to his request, to judge him on his actions. With Bassini having been in place such a short time, this would be an unreasonable point to draw any final conclusions. All we have at the moment is the earliest progress report.

Let’s tackle the player sales first, simultaneously the easiest and the hardest to assess. Easiest, because the issues involved are familiar and clear cut. Hardest, because the same assessment is particularly based on subjective judgment, there’s no right answer to gravitate to.

In the case of Danny Graham, who we’ve already discussed since his departure, any controversy can surely only stem from the transfer fee achieved rather than the inevitability of his leaving. For me… not a fantastic fee, but the mini-auction that might have had a little more legs clearly wasn’t progressing at a great pace. As for Buckley… well, if many Hornets forced their heads to rule their hearts in the Graham sale, the departure of Buckley (inevitable later, albeit the deal was completed first) allowed many to vent the frustration that being rational had kept contained. A good deal for me, this one, nonetheless. It hinges essentially on whether you see young Will improving or not; as previously discussed, I’ve got my doubts on that score and it appears that Malky had too. Another season like the last and nobody would have been offering seven figures for an inconsistent, if occasionally brilliant, winger in a year’s time.

So… certainly no worse than par for the player sales. Less positive all round was the decision to re-accommodate Saracens. There’s no argument that we need to consider all income streams of course, but a deal that was scarcely profitable financially smacks of a short-term prioritisation of cashflow. It also, indisputably, represents a quite dramatic change of tack from the hardball being played earlier in the negotiations.

This would be a mere irritant were it not for the apparent coincidence of the delay to the relaying of the pitch. Bassini’s explanation was that the levelling of the surface was a complex job requiring more time than was available this summer. If this is true, it places a question mark over the commitments made on arrival, the immediate relaying of the pitch being high on that list. Little value in such commitments if the ability to meet them hasn’t been verified. Nor does it bode well for the more expensive, complicated ground development projects. In delivering against his objectives, Bassini appears to have at least stumbled at the first hurdle by opting for decisions with shorter-term benefits. If we regard holding onto another major asset, Malky Mackay, as a priority, the ability to play the way he wants to play needs to be a priority too; one suspects he’d have taken a new pitch over a new player.

Most concerning of all, this week’s departure of erstwhile CEO Julian Winter. Nothing beyond the base facts are available; the least negative possibility is that Winter’s good work has been recognised elsewhere and he’s simply been made a much better offer to move on. We still lose out of course, but that wouldn’t really reflect upon Bassini and the new regime.

This doesn’t seem likely though. If he’s going to pastures greener, why not say so? What do the club have to lose by saying “Julian moves to Club X to take on role Y”? So… two plausible options. Winter has walked, which probably means that he thinks Bassini is an idiot. Or he’s been sacked, in which case Bassini is definitely an idiot… for there can be no doubt over Julian Winter’s value to Watford; his has been the hand at the tiller of the business whilst Malky has been reshaping the team from kids and scraps and his right to consequent acclaim is as great. Our club has been stable; it had no right to be.

Those who have had contact with him – and that there are many such people speaks volumes – talk of his candour, his persuasiveness, his honesty. Scarcely can an administrator have had a better profile at a football club. And as Bassini surely appreciated, Winter’s continued presence was apparent testimony to the integrity and soundness of his own plans, too. A reason to trust and believe in a situation where, as we discussed at the outset, trust is naturally outweighed by suspicion.

Too early to judge Bassini, certainly. But he’s already got significant ground to make up. We might learn a little more from tomorrow’s Q&A in the Watford Observer, which would itself constitute welcome progress as far as communication is concerned. Nature abhors a vaccuum, and some of the rumours to prosper in Bassini’s lack of candour so far are too ghastly to contemplate.

The doubts compete with the knowledge that we need Bassini to be a success. We’ll keep watching.

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Comments»

1. Matt - 09/06/2011

Matt, an excellent article which highlights the suspicion that is immediately cast on on any new owner or indeed even manager of a football club.

In terms of Bassini, he has started from a very low base with the bankruptcy, lack of transparency and his initial dealings in the transfer market hardly inspiring confidence.

What we as fans have to remember is that no-one else wanted our club (or those that did were even dodgier and / or were the Russo’s).

In terms of the player sales you can’t help but feel that the Russo’s would have got more for both Super Danny and Buckley (they even got £1.7mn for Priskin!) but the market is what it is, and I don’t think we’ve done too badly out of these two deals. As you said, it has been apparent that Malky has doubts on Buckley and although my feeling is that he could be worth a lot more in 18 months time, I’ve liked the look of Whychelow, Bryan and Murray and his sale could be one which enables one or more of them to really step up to the plate.

The biggest concern is the long term future of Malky – if I were him, I think I’d certainly be wondering if I can take the club any further at this stage and my gut feeling is that he won’t be our manager come August. If that is the case then I really couldn’t blame him as I’m pretty certain that he won’t be able to repeat last years performance with a weaker squad.

Time will tell but although we’re managing to clear some of our debt (is it around £13mn), there’s still a long way to go and there’s every chance that a few more could be leaving soon.

Come on U ‘Orns

Matt

2. Nick - 10/06/2011

Matt,

This is the first of many commentaries on or new owner that really sums up my feelings.

I understood the graham transfer and liked the buckley one but the lack of transparency in julian winters departure is a failure by bassini to truly understand the fans concerns.

His statement on the official site was a triumph in saying a lot without saying anything at all.

Nick

3. lendal - 10/06/2011

I’m not a ‘wrist wringer’, or judgemental, (does some daft things in my life I’m embarrassed about), and it seems to me a lot of the comments on forums and message boards appear to forget NO ONE else was putting their money in the ring to buy us. Quite willing to give the man a chance.

4. Seethrudog - 10/06/2011

Matt, whilst I like many other view Bassini with great suspicion, I was present at the most recent ‘At Your Place’ fans forum attended by Julian Winter. When asked about the structure of the board should a new owner come into the club, Winter clearly stated that he would inevitably leave the club when a new board arrived. Therefore this weeks news comes as no surprise to me.
Both points you make about DG and WB are absolutely spot on. Buckley did indeed blow hot and very very cold. £1m could well turn out to be good business and I for one would rather another Don Cowie and a fit again Stephen McGinn in place of WB.
But on the back of an incredibly positive season at the club, right now there seems to be a change of atmosphere which requires a swift counter from the new board. By this I am not suggesting the new owners come out with cheque books blazing but that they show they have the best interests of the club at heart by taking some immediate positive action re: stadium, pitch and staff and offering a little transparency as to their motivation and their future plans for the club.

Matt Rowson - 10/06/2011

I wasn’t at that meeting so can’t comment on what was or wasn’t said. But I do know that Winter hadn’t been intending to leave as a matter of course, as your comment implies.

NickB - 10/06/2011

My recollection is a little hazy, but I’m pretty sure he was holding out the possibility that change might include him, rather than describing his departure as inevitable. I thought he was one of the most likeable, honest football administrators I’d ever come across.

Malky’s agent has been making ‘come and get him’ noises in Wales Online article.

GT seems less than happy in short WO interview just put up.

I don’t like all this one bit.

Seethrudog - 10/06/2011

Matt, I’m sure you’re far better informed than I am but this was as I remembered it. If anyone else was there at the Kings Langley AYP and I mis-understood JWs comments, I would be happy to stand corrected.

5. Chris - 10/06/2011

Hi Matt – good article.
With regard to Julian Winter you have asked and answered your own question really:
‘his (JW) has been the hand at the tiller of the business’
Where we had Ashcroft who had an investment but never set foot in the club we now have a hands-on owner who has taken over from JW as the hand on the ’tiller’. After a 3 month transition it seems reasonable to part ways as you don’t need both of them and to me it was pre-planned if you review the updated offer documents from March

smarkymark - 10/06/2011

I was feeling the same until I read todays Watford Observer where Bassini says there will not be further wage cuts in fact there will be a 30% increase.He has also issued a “hands off” warning to any other team wanting Malky as manager and says there will be money for players.Are we happy now ?

Matt Rowson - 10/06/2011

Still watching… 🙂

6. JohnF - 10/06/2011

It is apparent that Mr Bassini wishes to use the club to demonstrate that he is a capable business man and has placed himself in the role of CEO. In view of his track record to date and his lack of any experience in football this is a concern. The purchase of the club was for a song. The main money is in clearing the bonds (about £10 million) but we have no indication whatsoever as to how this will be achieved and where the money will come from. Communication seems to be highly managed and I understand that there still has been no meeting with the Supporters Trust in spite of the trust stating several weeks ago that they were actively trying to arrange a meeting.It will require some pretty rapid positive actions to provide reassurance. In the meantime Malky has publicly indicated his concern over the return of Saracens so I hope that adequate reassurance is available to him that all will be well as I fear that without him we will be in for a very bumpy ride.

7. JohnM - 10/06/2011

Pretty much agree with the above. I have a nasty gut feeling that in a year or two we will be wishing the new owners a swift, single way trip to biblical fires—but I don’t have a reasoned logic for the feeling—We may have seriously disliked Jack Petchey, but at least we knew the club would not go bust under such an established and successful businessman. As previously said, Bassini and co. were the only reasonably sane or honest buyers. (At least the discussion on this site is sane—the vitriol on other sites would make you think Bassini is red in colour and wears horns and a tail). It really is too soon to judge. Certainly, with the exception of Winters departure, the events at the club, although arguable, can be viewed as reasonable. However, having read GT’s comments in the W.O., I gained the impression that, under the diplomacy, there is a certain amount of disquiet.

8. Paul Caruso - 11/06/2011

Scarborough Athletic’s new manager is called Rudy Funk, confounding expectation he is surprisingly not the erstwhile 7th member of Sly and the Family Stone, but looks incredbily like Ian Bolton’s brother. Is this both the funniest and jovially incongruous name in football?

Matt Rowson - 11/06/2011

Outstanding, thanks Paul. Danny Invincible was always a favourite and takes some beating. Also Rafael Shite, who abbreviated his monicker to “Rafael” when he signed for Celtic. But Rudy Funk is ahead of the pack I think.

9. Old Git - 14/06/2011

There was Tunji Banjo, that’s quite a good name. I remember him at the Orient. And Wayne Wanklyn at Reading.
And I seem to remember a Paraguyan player a couple of World Cups ago, called Chiqi Arce.
And there was a player called Jelleyman, I can’t remember who he played for but I do recall that he got red-carded once, and Jeff Stelling memorably described the incident with ‘Jelleyman has thrown a wobbly.’

Fixtures out Friday, I think. Thank God.

10. Dave Jackson - 16/06/2011

Old Git, that is tremendous! Cheered me up as I was glumly considering the forthcoming, Buckley-less season.

11. Simoninoz - 17/06/2011

Anyone remember Trevor Womble? Strangely enough he never played for Wimbledon.

12. Simon - 17/06/2011

I’ve always found it difficult to look past the Shittu Doudou centre half/centre forward combo at QPR.

13. simonw - 17/06/2011

So Malky’s gone – what is to become of us now?
Ian, Matt – HELP… tell us what we think !!


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