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Here we are, then. 05/09/2012

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

In the future, we will know how this has all turned out.

There may not be a consensus. Even GT has his detractors, the more so at the time, and there are takes on Ray Lewington’s spell in charge that contrast starkly with those held on this blog. One suspects that any two Watford supporters would argue over whether they agreed on any given subject.

But stuff will have happened, stuff which will formulate opinion. We have opinions now, based on a little bit of evidence, judgements, suspicions. But we don’t know. Now, right now, in the wake of this most extraordinary of summers and most bizarre of transfer windows, the ball is about to start rolling…

What we know so far is the plan, at least in general terms. And as far as that goes… I think I’m on board. Tentatively. Kind of. Almost certainly. Beyond dispute is that, in any case, the preceding status quo was not somewhere we wanted to be, and not somewhere we would have remained for long in any case. Bassini’s reign concluded with the club every bit as precarious and uncertain as his public appearances; put the two situations, the continuation of the Bassini regime and this new model, next to each other as options and there’s no decision to make. We should be grateful for Lord Ashcroft’s bond provisions, without a doubt, and for the previous board’s boldness.

But even in isolation, the new approach has a lot going for it. Access to the Pozzo’s extraordinary scouting network, an asset that they understandably want to sweat, and to a pool of players already identified and recruited. No coincidence that so many of our loan signings are youngsters, this seems to be the approach – recruit them very young, develop them in training, by loaning them out, by playing them, and then sell them on for maximum profit. Cynical? Not really, just an extension of what we already did, but with bells on.

It’s tempting to say that the same goes for loans… that we’ve long since relied upon borrowing high quality players for our (limited) successes; without checking, I don’t remember the last season that didn’t feature a successful longish term loan. I’d guess it was a while ago. A popular criticism of course is the inherent short-termism, that in borrowing players of the quality that we have to make us more competitive we sacrifice places for our own, perhaps less talented players and become all the more dependent on that loan market as our own players don’t develop as quickly, a vicious circle. Now… we’re borrowing players, predominantly, from Udinese and Granada, clubs owned by the same group that own us. Whatever the degree to which you adopt them as your Italian/Spanish favourites, there’s no denying that we benefit to a greater degree in the longer term by developing Udinese/Granada’s players than Manchester United’s.

But actually there’s more to it than that. No coincidence surely that so many of these players nominally reside with Udinese. That much was confirmed, if it were ever in doubt, by the Marco Cassetti signing; why bring a 35 year-old veteran to Udinese only to move him to Watford? This is not a rough diamond that Udinese need polishing, this is a seasoned veteran, an international. Why not just sign him to Watford if that’s his destination? Whether the benefit is tax-based, or whether we are navigating the Financial Fare Play rules by paying salaries through our sister clubs, there is clearly a benefit to the Pozzos of the registrations being held in Italy, the talk of the recent raft of signings being with an “option to buy” next summer surely just window dressing. Selling players to each other? Why?

The bit that sticks in my craw a little, the development that I find hardest to accept, is the implied lack of opportunity for our younger players. The downgrading of the academy reflects changes external to the takeover, at least in part, and serves as only the most recent demonstration of the point my co-editor has made on here of late; that the rules of the game are continuously being changed by those at the top table, and not in the favour of clubs the size of Watford. So the choice is either to keep trying to make do with the increasingly difficult hand that you’ve been afforded, or you try to change the rules.

As far as the kids are concerned though… we have secured the two brightest lights of our current crop; hugely encouraging on every level that Sean Murray and Tommie Hoban have seen fit to sign five year contracts. But for the rest? Massey, who perhaps hasn’t exploded as quickly as hoped but still looked promising, has gone. Assombalonga, Thompson, Bennett on loan (again). Any number of erstwhile maybes who won’t get anywhere near our team any more. Do we really expect to continue to bring through localish talent, or are the next young players as likely to come from Rio as from Rickmansworth? And does it matter if so? I think it does… it’s part of the identity of the club that the incoming regime committed to protect.

Meanwhile it’s perfectly defensible to separate the model from the execution. If the model looks a good thing, probably, on balance, then it can still be executed badly. Far, far too early to be making any kind of judgements there yet of course… any manager needs time to bed in, even in a relatively straightforward new role which this certainly isn’t. That aside, the wake of a 5-1 tonking at bloody Derby wouldn’t be the most balanced position from which to be taking stock. Hell, I wasn’t even at the game…

There are certainly causes for concern, though. I don’t think that’s a premature statement. I struggle to reconcile losing Martin Taylor with building a side to get out of the division, whatever style of football you want to play and however many defenders you’ve signed. Given that he went though, and went the day before the Derby game, a degree of disorganisation is only to be expected. Nor, without having seen the game, does Zola’s insistence that he called the team right overly concern me… he may know stuff that we don’t; perhaps Hoban isn’t quite ready, Cassetti was only a very reluctant centre back at Roma. One game can be excused, in the circumstances, particularly with so many new faces coming in at the back.

What’s harder to write off is the increasing frailty of our three-man midfield. The Ipswich debacle saw Jonathan Hogg frantically trying – and failing – to close down all available space effectively on his own. Abdi, for all his obvious ability, is not a workhorse and whilst Yeates’ lack of pace has been less of an issue centrally he’s not going to put a foot in either. Such seems to have been the issue at Derby also and you can’t get away with that. Not any passengers in a three man midfield, certainly not two. Encouraging that John Eustace appears to remain a cornerstone, but in his absence surely a Jenkins, capable of breaking things up and keeping possession, was a better bet than Yeates. Worrying, also, that a lack of fitness has been widely reported as evident, an anathema – when could we last accuse a Watford side of that? With the best will in the world, these spectres of the Vialli season will continue to haunt Zola until he proves them irrelevant.

The last few months have been extraordinary, and given all of the above it would be wholly unreasonable to expect everything to fall into place straight away. Watford supporters are probably as patient as any set of football fans (not very, rather than not at all, then) and the recently announced Fans Forum can only help assuage short-term concerns through its very existence. Assuming the protagonists all show up, of course.

The next few months won’t be dull, one suspects; the Bolton match, the new team, the new players, has a rather pivotal feel about it. History is about to be written. The ball has started rolling…



1. Back from Hammerau - 05/09/2012

I wonder how much will be really learnt at the fans forum. Might it be like those of recent times when the most important member of the panel was the one who wasn’t there? Then it was Lord Ashcroft; this time it will be a Pozzo.

Like there was never a time we didn’t have players on loan from bigger clubs, was there ever a time we didn’t have our young players out on loan with smaller clubs or only ever playing for our reserves when we thought they deserved a chance in the first team?

The departure of Martin Taylor makes the signing of Fitz Hall even less sensible than it originally seemed.

I’m prepared to give a group of people who’ve brought financial stability and the goal celebration animation to Vicarage Road plenty of leeway, even if I’m struggling to remember who all the new signings are.

Matt Rowson - 05/09/2012

Fans Forum – you might be right, but Nani and Duxbury are running the club. It’s there, that’s the main thing.

Young players out – sure, but Thompson in particular should be pushing the first team by now, Bennett’s been out any number of times. Point is, these kids aren’t going to get into our team unless they are outstanding (whereas producing players capable of playing at Div 2 (old money) level was previously an achievement.

2. Harefield Hornet - 05/09/2012

Interesting stuff to say the least. I have been fairly optimistic about the changes so far but equally astonished by the speed and the numbers of loaness arriving from the annexed clubs. It must be extraordinary at London Colney (assuming they’ve all made it that far yet!) as the ranks of Udinese players appeared around the previous squad. Footballers are used to constant change but this must have been reminiscent of the type of thing that sometimes used to happen when managers move clubs in the amateur leagues and virtually the whole team followed them to the new destination! What has surprised me is how few have been shipped out in the opposite direction but I expect the loan window may hasten that. The biggest jolt so far has obviously been the loss of Taylor, but if the reports circulating are true he obviously fancied a bigger payday and longer contract and lets face it, with the multitude of players catapaulting in around him, he (and his agent) probably felt he would be better off elsewhere. As for the kids, if their good enough they’ll be given a chance, albeit probably on a more limited timescale, and it’s up to them to take it. As for Dyche, another season keeping our heads above water in the Championship would have been deemed a success and a larger club would no doubt have taken him in due course leaving us back at square one again. Your observation that it is the most pivotal time at the club for many years is bang on but I for one am glad it’s all happened. We couldn’t carry on as we were, we were drifting nowhere except towards an eventual slide back into the lower leagues. COYH. P.S. Abdi – Class!

Matt Rowson - 05/09/2012

Abdi – class. With the ball.

3. Roger Smith - 05/09/2012

I think we were al surprised – well, gobsmacked – to see Dicko as a centre half. If Hodson was fit, surely it would have been better to play Doyley in the middle?

My first thought was that Zola was persisting with three at the back, but Jon Marks in the 3CR commentary was at pains to scotch that idea.

I know Chamberlain is the goalkeeping coach, but as the sole survivor of the Dyche backroom, you might have expected Zola to seek his opinion. The conclusion is that Zola must like Dicko a whole lot more than most of us – but maybe not any longer!

Matt Rowson - 05/09/2012

Harsh to pass judgement on Dicko in that role. But, yes, baffling decision.

4. Mike Scofield - 05/09/2012

Definitely some questions to be answered about the confused nature of signings.
Why wait until last minute on deadline day to sign players that are already part of the clubs organisation ? Why not bring them in earlier to get the maximum out of them ?
Does this show some problems between Udinese & UK ? Does Zola want them all, or were they forced upon us ? Or is it a genuine realisation by Zola that what he has is not as good as he suggested only 4/5 weeks ago ?

Matt Rowson - 06/09/2012

Good point. Playing devil’s advocate it wouldn’t be unreasonable in the circumstances for Zola to wait as long as possible to evaluate current squad. Equally, you’ve got to persuade the guys coming over to come. Would be interested to know how much say Zola has… does he consult with Nani, or just get what he’s given and make do?

5. Red - 05/09/2012

I went to the Derby match. Zola’s claim that it was all his fault for not preparing for set pieces is an attempt to hide the fact we were awful all the time, not just when they scored. Thanks to Lloyd and Dicko for being the only two players to come over and say thank you to the fans that were left.

grahamwalker - 06/09/2012

and big Chris !

6. Mark - 06/09/2012

Protecting the players?

I feel a bit for Zola.

Now going to have to get a very large squad of fit or unproven players to gel and probably get up into the top 6 as I presume the Pozzos didn’t sack Dyche and change the management team just to come 11th again?

7. Jonathan Rodgers - 06/09/2012

Speaking from the perspective of a Derby fan who lives in Watford (and attends the Vic regularly), I think that this game was a bit of a blip. Derby have been playing well all season and were due a big score. Add to that the previous day’s sale of Taylor, a rather naive, strange formation (4-1-4-1) and Zola’s self confessed lack of knowledge of Derby’s set piece capability and you get a 5-1 defeat.
The performances against Palace and Brum (which I went to) demonstrate that Watford are capable of beating sides this season. I just think Zola needs to sharpen up a bit.

Matt Rowson - 07/09/2012

“Lack of knowledge of Derby’s set piece capability” ? You make it sound like a closely guarded secret, a doomsday weapon. Derby may be particularly adept, but there’s no excuse for not preparing for set pieces, not even with a change in personnel.

8. Mark Turner - 07/09/2012

I’m probably the worst person to comment as I have only seen Watford from afar for the last N years. But here goes anyway:
1. The new board and Zola have effectively done the equivalent of resetting the arcade game, given Zola a new bunch of players and NO excuses to be had about what he inherrited. If it doesn’t work, its his fault.
2. I hope that the new players come to realise what playing for team like Watford means – if they dont then I see a real problem getting this to work. We only do well when the team is greater than the sum of the parts..and parts are all new…
3. I dont think this will test the loyalty of the fans. it seems to me (for a distance) if they have got this far with everything that has happened since the ITV deal, then they can cope with anything.
4. Just need a few wins (as ever…)

Matt Rowson - 07/09/2012

1- disagree. not necessarily. you assume he is control of player ins and outs for one thing.
2- but reset has been pressed for one thing, old rules don’t apply. As for “what playing for Watford means”… I agree that we want more than going through the motions. But you can overstate the significance of the club, distorted as it is by our perspective. Sander Westerveld’s account of his reaction to Liverpool fans telling him that he didn’t understand what it meant to play for Liverpool, that he didn’t have “the passion”, was quite colourful I remember.

9. JohnF - 08/09/2012

A very thoughtful assessment Matt and nothing I would really take issue with. It is early days yet and we have more points than we had at the same time last season. There are signs of quality at times but Zola’s English means he sometimes finds it difficult to express himself so I’m not sure we always get the message he is trying to convey. That the squad is too big is a givenand we have brought in 5 more players than last year but they are mostly on loan and those surluss to requirements can be returned. My take on it is that the large number were brought in to let Zola see who he wanted to keep apart from Pudil, Abdi and Vydra. I heard that Taylor wanted to move last Christmas but injury prevented that and he was seeking more money and a longer contract. This I can understand at his career point. Zola did say that he tried to keep him but it seems the club were not prepared to pay excessive money, which is sensible.

I agree that Zola was naive and that is slightly worrying but hopefully he has learned a lesson in adapting to the championship. Remeber he is still very inexperienced just like our last 4 managers but he is a good coach.

The most important thing about the new order is long-term financial stability and sensible financial management after what has happened over the last few years.

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