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End of Term Report Part 8 07/06/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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Must… keep… going…

32- Jonathan Hogg

I must confess to having been a little apprehensive about the signing of Jonathan Hogg.  For one thing, coming on the back of the recruitment of Carl Dickinson the significance of Ian Woan’s testimony was clearly prominent – he had overseen the training sessions of both during loan spells at Pompey.  Not that Woan is necessarily a bad judge of a player, but it always concerns me when a new manager moves in with a vanguard of former charges, as if there’s only one trick he knows how to pull… for every Aidy Boothroyd, who pulled this off successfully, there are five Gordon Strachans.   Another concern, much as Hogg’s quality was immediately apparent, was that he seemed like a solution to a problem that didn’t really need solving, John Eustace and Ross Jenkins more than adequately covering destructive responsibilities in central midfield.  Any lingering reservations were dispelled by the time Eustace and Hogg switched roles, with the new boy able to revel in the defensive sitting position.  Quickly you were left with the feeling that we were playing a computer game on too easy a level, or had somehow obtained a “cheat”, a ball-seeking missile that could be launched from the back of midfield at will, decimating everything in its path.  The magnificent story, recounted at one of the excellent “At Your Place” evenings (that OK, Rich?), of Hogg persuading Alex McLeish to sell him to us at an affordable price by kicking lumps out of his soon to be ex-Villa team-mates in a training session was very believable.  Not that his role was purely destructive… miserly with possession, he almost seemed to enjoy the challenge all the more, the narrower the spot he found himself in.  If there’s a criticism it’s that he faded a little in the second half of the campaign… had the first and second halves of the season been reversed, he’d surely have been a shoo-in for a top three spot in Player of the Season.  Nonetheless, the one cast-iron beyond-discussion success of Sean Dyche’s summer spending.

Next Season:  More of the same.  A goal would be nice mind, although he was never terribly close to becoming the first to score in 32 since 1999.

33- Nyron Nosworthy

Another one, if I’m honest, that I wasn’t sure about.  It’s not that, with four defeats and eleven goals conceded in four games since Martin Taylor’s injury something didn’t need to happen.  It’s just that it wasn’t obvious that Nosworthy was it… many of us will have remembered his most recent opposing visits to the Vic as part of a hapless Sheffield United back four.  Nonetheless, Sunderland fans spoke highly of him, even eulogising his contribution to their time in the second tier. So it proved.  Scarcely credible that we could lose Martin Taylor for so long and barely notice (except, perhaps, in his value as an attacking threat although Nos chipped in there too).  Sunderland fans had also betrayed the confusing hankering for the simpler pleasures of the second tier that I certainly recall from both our seasons in the top flight… his Cruyff turns on the edge of his own penalty box, the sort that you really wouldn’t get away with against a Rooney or a Van Persie, were wistfully referred to.  And there are certainly echoes of Keith Dublin or Ben Iroha… but only up to a point.  Cavalier defenders are far more fun in retrospect.  Nos is first and foremost a tough, solid, and largely reliable defender… not exempt from the odd wobbly performance.  But if he was flawless, he’d still be playing in the top flight.

Next Season: First choice alongside Martin Taylor.

35- Tomasz Kuszczak

We’ve discussed the whys and was-it-appropriate’s under Scott Loach in Part 1. Putting that to one side, there is little doubt that Kuszczak’s contribution during his time at Vicarage Road was hugely positive for Watford.  Hopefully for Kuszczak too, even if he didn’t achieve his stated ambition of making Poland’s Euro 2012 squad.  A wobbly debut at home to Southampton had folk briefly worried, but he soon played himself out of the rustiness borne of nine months without a competitive fixture and became a commanding, reassuring presence.  Without wishing to knock Loach, the difference in composure not just of the goalkeeper, but of the entire defence, was palpable, and as much a part of our strong late run (Kuszczak only played in one defeat after his debut) as Sean Murray’s devil at the other end of the pitch.

Next Season: Hopefully first choice somewhere for the Pole in goal.  Would be nice to see him back, but on the assumption that he’ll get significantly more money elsewhere, żegnaj i powodzenia Tomasz.  Just not Ipswich, eh?

37- Craig Beattie

Watford have done well out of loan deals over the years.  I know I bang on about giving our kids a run, but a good loan can invigorate a squad, and I wouldn’t have wanted to see us without Cleverley, Lansbury, Helguson, Mutch over the past couple of years.  2011/12 has been a good a season as any in this respect, with a number of temporary signings (including Nosworthy, whose signing was made permanent having joined on loan) making a significant contribution.  However Craig Beattie wasn’t one of them.  He joined from Swansea shortly after Nosworthy arrived from Sunderland, but started one game in two months.  He didn’t look terrible by any means, but it wasn’t altogether clear what he was supposed to bring to an attack that wasn’t short of tough strikers who didn’t run very fast.  His performances didn’t suggest any great urgency either, perhaps because his eye was already on a return to Scotland.

Next Season: Released from his Swansea deal at the end of January he joined Hearts within the month as a free agent and scored the late penalty that saw off Celtic in the Scottish FA Cup semi final.  It seems unlikely that he or Watford will give each other a second thought.

Sean Dyche

We’ve seen players come through tough periods before, win the crowd over.  You can think of individuals as easily as I can name them.  Difference is, a player normally has the occasion to recover his poise, recover his confidence, be it through a spell out of the side, on loan, or just hitting form or fitness.  A manager doesn’t have that luxury… yes, he’s as susceptible to the vagaries of fate as anyone, but he doesn’t get to hide anywhere, doesn’t get to let any team mates take the strain.  It’s very rare that a manager wins supporters over; a man under pressure invariably looks as if he’s clawing helplessly at a slippery slope, fighting something inevitable.  Just a matter of time. So for Sean Dyche to recover from the early fans’ forum, during which he was face to face with any number of supporters who preceded their comment with expression of disappointment at the way the team was going, to ending a season, his first season, top half with an improvement on the previous year despite having lost, effectively, a four-man attack in Cowie, Graham, Sordell and Buckley during his tenure was truly remarkable.

I’m not knocking those who posed those questions, we were most of us feeling that anxiety.  I’d been delighted by Dyche’s appointment, but largely because I expected him to continue in the vein of the management team he’d been a part of with Malky Mackay.  I was hugely disappointed when he took a different path, but the very positive take from that is that here’s a man who knows his own mind and can deliver on it.  Much harder than just carrying on using a pre-existing model, even given the player movements that in part forced his hand.

To bring the elephant in the room into view, I still utterly disagree with his approach to managing young players.  To qualify that a little, I think he made a lot of mistakes last summer, when we signed Forsyth, Yeates, Mirfin, Buaben, Iwelumo, Dickinson, Garner and Hogg.  Forsyth, perhaps, an inherited deal.  But of those, much as the jury is still out on some and there’s scope for development in others, Hogg is the only unqualified success.  And the cost of bulking the squad out with some rather average players, ultimately, in combination with the drop from seven to five subs, is that our kids got far less game time.

Since then, it’s fair to say, there’s very little that you’d quibble with.  I’d have had Murray in the team earlier.  I’m baffled at the treatment of Whichelow, but don’t get to see what goes on off the pitch.  But there aren’t many individual selection decisions you’d query based on available personnel, Dyche played the loan market well and of course the results, ultimately, were pretty extraordinary.

But the strategy is flawed, and doesn’t fit our club in the longer term.  It ultimately doesn’t matter whether the players we bought were adequate or not… year on year, unless something changes radically, we are competing with rivals within our division with bigger budgets.  Much bigger, some of them.  You’re talking about needing to turn up diamonds that others have missed, selling a vision too perhaps.  Everyone else is trying that too, with a bigger budget.  You might do well one year, get good value, find decent players, we all enjoy turning up an Andy Hessenthaler or a Mike Williamson from a lower division.  But we won’t get away with that every season, we’re playing that game with a fundamentally weaker hand.

On the other hand, our record in youth development has few rivals, certainly not at this level.  Harefield is something that nobody else has – although they will eventually.  We’re ahead of the game there, and it’s something to be hugely proud of.  Following the previous model – I won’t call it Mackay’s approach, since it surely wasn’t just down to him – these kids were getting time on the pitch.  And sure, they weren’t all going to be ready.  And sure, our form wobbled a bit at the end of 2010/11 (although not as badly as results or some rather inaccurate reflections would suggest).  But ultimately the kids are better equipped as a result.  You’re not telling me that Lee Hodson isn’t a tougher, more resilient, more experienced player based on coming through his experiences last season?

Most of all, we weren’t just talking the talk.  Lots of clubs at our level claim – and intend – to base their team on youth development.  We were actually doing it, demonstrably.  We had loads of kids in the team… you know the stats as well as I do, and you’ll also be aware that in stark contrast only Bond and Assombalonga had debuts last season, whilst many of those that had been involved were marginalised.  The route to the first team for those talented enough is a real competitive advantage for a club like Watford, and this is a battle we’re much better equipped to win than the bunfight for second tier players in the transfer market.  If you’re Sean Murray, comparing a place with a Prem club several years and loans away from the first team to regular involvement and development and Watford, you have a decision to make.  If what’s on offer at Watford is a more “careful” approach, you don’t.

I would have preferred to have seen more quality and less quantity last summer, and it will be interesting to see what this summer’s dealing brings.  There’s no doubt that we have a hugely talented, likeable, honest and single-minded manager who has built a tough, robust side in his own image.  Improving on this season’s performance will be a challenge, but with a strong base and Murray’s box of tricks up front, it’s not beyond us.

Enjoy the summer. (Oh, you are…)

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Comments»

1. Mark Turner - 07/06/2012

Great reviews. Balanced, thoughtful and with a vein of passion all the way through. I hope SD trimsback the ‘imports’ and gives the youngsters a chance, even if it means 8 points less overall next season

Matt Rowson - 07/06/2012

thx Mark

South West Hornet - 07/06/2012

Yep, good to see people such as yourself and IG putting so much effort in. Much appreciated. (return of bsad for next season? 🙂 )

Matt Rowson - 07/06/2012

i’ll let ig answer that one…

Harefield Hornet - 07/06/2012

Theres a very fine line to tread here. Get it wrong and we end up back in the third tier and I’d rather take the more cautious approach and at least stay in the second tier. It’s taken a bloody long time to establish ourselves there. Let the staff decide how many youngsters to pitch in and when, that’s their job. That said, the real issue is making absolutely sure we sign better experienced players when we have to -Like everybody else I’d rather see our more talented youngsters in the side than mediocre journeymen, but only if they are ready. If they are indeed first team material they will bide their time and wait for their opportunity to come. It will come eventually and if they are good enough they will be OK. There has been too many youngsters slung in too early, play a handful of games and then disappear without trace?

Matt Rowson - 07/06/2012

Agree there’s a balance. But don’t agree that since Sean’s approach is “cautious” then kids=risk. Caution worked very well for us this season but is not a sensible longer term approach. I won’t repeat what I’ve said in the article, but given Harefield, giving the kids chances HAS to be fundamental to the ethos of the club.

Staff make decisions on an individual basis. But above and beyond that Dyche made a strategic decision to go for journeymen over kids. I don’t mean that in a derogatory way… Mackay described the choice in those terms in a Cardiff City fans forum. I’m perfectly entitled to my opinion on that decision… to say “leave it to the staff” would preclude us all from voicing an opinion, in which case why are you here?

And I don’t agree that if they are first team material they will bide their time. Nonsense. if you’re a talented kid who is not getting chances at Watford but is attracting interest from higher up… let’s say before Murray, before you’ve signed a pro deal? If you don’t believe you’ll get chances, what possible incentive is there to stay?

“Too many youngsters slung in too early”. Like who. Gary Fitzgerald? Yes, OK, but that was nearly 20 years ago.

2. Ian Lay - 07/06/2012

Thanks, as always, for your wonderful end of season reports. Always makes me feel like I’m back at school!

As for BSaD…well you’d have to come up with new title for it…maybe Bambivalent or Bambie for short…

Ian

3. Roger Smith - 07/06/2012

As you say, the team reflects the manager’s performance, and there’s nowhere to hide. So the first thing to say is that it is enormously to Dych’s credit that he never tries to hide.

The other parallel is that Dyche had a shaky start, but grew in stature as the season progressed. Nowhere was that more obvious than in his choice and timing of subs: often quite bizarre to start with (driving me to apoplexy more than once!), but progressively more logical and effective towards the end.

It’s not only what a loan player contributes as an individual that counts, but the impact that he has on the journeyman players around him. I’m sure that was the case with Lansbury and Cleverley (and Kuszczak?!), but it is to the credit of the club and its manager that all of our loanees return to their parent club full of praise for Watford and much the better for their time here.

So can we repeat the very respectable finish next year? I’m hugely confident that we will make a solid start and go on from there. Onward and upward!

4. Andrew J - 08/06/2012

Well done, excellent reporting. One more comment from me: I think Nos and Tiny are too similar to play together regularly; they didn’t convince me at the end of last season, and maybe Adam Thompson could take AM’s place if the latter does go? I’d love Nos and Tiny to prove me wrong, of course.

5. Paul Baxter - 08/06/2012

I don’t get to see many games as I live in Cheshire but I did get to see the final game of the 2010/11 season. We lost 3-1 to Preston but it was Sean Murray’s debut and he was the best player on the pitch. It reminded me of the first time I saw John Barnes play.

I expected him to be a sub for the first quarter of the season and then a regular so I was surprised when he didn’t figure at all in the first half of the season. Given his form once he did get a chance, I am sure he was ready earlier and I agree with Matt that developing and playing youngsters is the only business model that works for us. Having said that, Sean did a good job in the second half of the season and the experience of this season will make him a better manager next time.

6. Harefield Hornet - 12/06/2012

Matt

Still convinced that if youngsters are good enough they will hang around for their chance as most of them are advised by Parents/ mentors etc who will have a more balanced view. As for those with promise who were discarded, there have been a few recently who I think may have done a lot better if they had been drip fed into the side over a longer period: Michael Bryan, Billy Gibson, Rob Kiernan, Eddie Oshodi, Jordan Parkes, Lewis Young, Toumani Diagouraga, Kieran Forbes, Joel Grant etc – perhaps I’m confusing the issue of them not being ready with the fact they just weren’t good enough when given the chance? – I’m not sure. Even so, they were all lauded as the next greatest thing since sliced bread by those I know who watched them play regularly in the youth sides. But then football is all about varied opinions, as you correctly pointed out above.

Matt Rowson - 14/06/2012

Many of those you mention WERE dripped in very slowly. Parkes and Kiernan in particular were in the first team squad for a long time. I don’t agree with the implication that slower introduction would have made them better players; even Diagouraga, to date the most successful of the names you list, hasn’t progressed beyond League 1. if they’re not good enough, they’re not good enough.

But giving them a chance to develop, to show what they can do in the first team sends a message. We have very high calibre facilities and development. If we have a route to the first team too then youngsters WILL see a clear benefit of joining WFC over a top flight alternative. It’s attracting the Murrays, the Youngs, the Mariappas, the very high calibre youngsters that we’re talking about.

7. Harefield Hornet - 13/06/2012

OK!

8. JohnF - 14/06/2012

Introducing the youngsters is always a delicate balance but I completely agree that if they never get to play for the first team they never get the experience or the taste for it. That can lead to discontent. Perhaps the real answer is gradual introduction and not too many games, which can lead to injuries that do not go away. Perhaps that is what happened to Ross jenkins. The return of 7 subs will help greatly I am sure and the wobbly start to last season didn’t. Maybe Dyche will have more confidence next season and that will allow him to be a little more adventurous.

9. JohnM - 18/06/2012

As usual, excellent write up.
As I read this, reports coming through of imminent sale of the club to the Pozzo family of Udinese/Granada. Know little about them, but am told they are reasonably well thought of at Udinese—although some involvement in match fixing scandal. Oh my! As I write this (again) there is a rumour from Italian sources that Gianfranco Zola is being offered a four year deal as Watford Manager. Hope not—horrible Vialli muscle twitches. But that would mean real money—-.

10. Chris Malthouse - 23/06/2012

Are you going to rename the site bhappyegg now that we have a new sponsor?

Matt Rowson - 24/06/2012

No.

JohnM - 24/06/2012

I suppose rival supporters will regard us as a bit of a yolk, probably call us chicken. I suppose we will have to be hard boiled about it. Maybe,if the italians take over we can take any abuse because we’ll have Pozzo-money.
I’m sorry. I’m really sorry.


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