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End of Term Report Part 8 24/06/2013

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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The real crime in the Pozzo approach, of course, is that it’s nearly July and I’m still on the End of Term Report…  final chapter…

40- Joel Ekstrand

Joel was another who wasn’t introduced from the word go, but from his full debut at home to Millwall in early November he was a fixture.  Unfortunately for Joel his only brief spell out of the side, a knee injury causing him to miss two games in February, also postponed his recall to the Swedish national side.  Unflashy but thoroughly competent, disciplined, effective, he was simply a component of the side that never caused any concern.  Mentally, a “that bit’s sorted” label was pasted over whichever corner of the defence Joel occupied – even the period towards the end of the season when injuries to both Nosworthy and Hall saw him adopt the central role more obviously suited to a more physically dominant bully of a defender. He adapted and did the job required;  whilst the defence occasionally creaked in the closing months it was the lack  of height in general rather than Joel in particular that was the problem.

Where he did struggle, if only briefly and inconsequentially, was when he moved to the left of the three in the wake of Tommie Hoban’s injury… he seemed less confident in possession, less sure of his positioning.  This was a brief wobble however; overall, Joel goes down as yet another successful import.

Next Season:  A superbly confident, competent defender, once again you’d have him back like a shot. Once again we have to wait and see…

41- Fernando Forestieri

…but not with this one, not in this case.  One of the most exciting days of the season, off the pitch, was January 14th when Fernando Forestieri’s move to Watford on a permanent basis and a five-and-a-half year contract was announced.  In the back of your mind you knew that, whatever the kerfuffle about loans it didn’t really matter which club these guys were signed for.  And you knew that the Pozzo model, as far as it affected Watford, made no sense if there was no continuity… a whole raft of loans in season 1 being replaced by a load of entirely different loans in season 2 presents the challenge of a new team settling and bedding before finding gear and perhaps falling just short as a consequence.

But what a statement that signing was.  For all that Fernando was neither the most effective nor the most disciplined of our new signings in the first half of the season he was undoubtedly a star, someone with so much potential that it made your eyes water. Many of his early outings had been exciting and frustrating in equal measure… but his trajectory over the season suggests that that long contract might again have been a prudent move.

At the start of the season he quickly developed a reputation for going down rather easily… only partly merited, since his clever movement and tight control had seen him attract any number of fouls simply by getting his body between opponent and ball. By the end of the campaign his attitude was entirely different.  Whilst he might still occasionally sit nonplussed on the ground as the game disappears back upfield in the wake of a rejected appeal for a foul, his statement towards the end of the season that Zola had taught him to regard the physical confrontation as a challenge was borne out in his play.  When you think of him now it’s with an almost Maradonalike strength, low centre of gravity, difficult to knock off the ball.  Quite a contrast to the start of the campaign.

And if there’s still room for improvement in terms of decision making, here too Fernando has been transformed… no longer a mercurial talent playing the game on his own as the hat-trick of assists that buried Blackburn testifies. Work in progress.  But he is progressing, which is a terrifying prospect.

Next Season: Five years.  Wow. Rock on August.

42- Jean-Alain Fanchone

I know that there were Watford supporters at Blackburn who will testify not only that Jean-Alain Fanchone existed, but that he played a full competitive 90 minutes for the side and didn’t do a bad job.  Nonetheless, he suffers from coming in as one of a number of exotic but meaningless names on a par with Forestieri, Vydra, Cassetti, Ekstrand…  and never progressing further into most of our consciousnesses.  He enters into legend, a myth, his name joining the likes of Sergei Clescenco, Jerren Nixon and Sietes (Stern John’s membership reneged when he rocked up at Nottingham Forest) in a list of names who occupy that grey area between Colin Simpson and Roy of the Rovers.

Next Season: Jean-Alain joined Nimes after his loan at Vicarage Road was curtailed.  Or so Wikipedia would have us believe.

Gianfranco Zola

At Huddersfield I was lucky enough to join Jon Marks in the BBC 3CR “commentary box”.  The game was a pivotal point in our season of course, but was also more immediately dramatic and slightly bad tempered and ended in what is commonly referred to as “controversy” as Fernando was felled in the penalty box to earn the decisive spot kick.

With Jon off doing interviews post-match I was left watching first the stadium and then the press box gradually empty until I was left apparently alone inside the arena with the guy slowly replenishing the pitch markings.  I wandered back into the bowels of the stadium and located the door which had earlier been marked out as the “Press Room” by virtue of a makeshift label in biro on a folded piece of A4 taped to the door.  Said sheet of A4 had since been removed, but figuring that the coffee machine was probably still where I’d last seen it and betraying my inexperience of post-match ritual, I opened the door.  The ranks of press men seated facing a -mercifully- still empty desk looked at me expectantly. I tried to look as if I both belonged in the room and knew exactly what I was doing by gratefully parking myself in the middle of the throng alongside Frank Smith.

Gianfranco arrived within 30 seconds and dealt with the array of questions, predominantly from local journalists and with a focus on the dramatic denouement to the goalscoring.  He was disarmingly charming throughout, fielding every question cordially with his thoughtful, apologetic grin. As the door closed behind him the local guys turned to each other with a “what a nice man…”.

Which matters.  It matters to me, anyway.  Not that he can charm a bunch of football journalists particularly, but that he’s patently a very nice bloke who you want to do well.  Not the only criteria of course… we all have friends that we like as people that we wouldn’t want in charge of our football club.  But it helps.  There have been relatively successful managers in the past who have been much harder to warm to.

Charming or not, and the Wembley disappointment notwithstanding Zola’s first season at Vicarage Road can only be regarded as a huge success.  In considering the recruitment strategy we’ve employed it’s been largely overlooked that being handed a disparate group of largely unproven if talented players, quickly fusing them into the team and creating something capable of such magnificence was a huge achievement, not something to be glossed over or taken for granted.  He’ll have learned from the process and it will be interesting to see if there are any obvious changes in his own approach next season… in particular his occasional wholesale squad rotation that was largely unsuccessful and was probably the most frequently voiced criticism.

On balance, however, Gianfranco earned us far more than he lost us, and many of the squad have progressed dramatically under the tutelage of him and his coaching team. We’ve made the point any number of times over the season and since the start of the summer.  But we really have been so lucky…

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Comments»

1. putajumperon - 24/06/2013

“He was disarmingly charming throughout, fielding every question cordially with his thoughtful, apologetic grin. As the door closed behind him the local guys turned to each other with a “what a nice man…”.” – that is exactly how I felt after the AYP (Kings Langley), the night I was totally won over to the Pozzo plan.

2. Iain Jordan - 24/06/2013

I went to about half a dozen away games last season, the Huddersfield game being one of them. That game was pivotal for a number of reasons; the formation, Deeney’s return, Fessi giving real end product to his abundant skill. A win. At the time we realised it was a significant result, largely because it gave us three points and we could really see potential. I don’t think we realised though just how important that game would turn out to be in the context of the season.

Zola is an inexperienced manager, he made his share of mistakes last season, but he also showed the conviction to make tough decisions; adopting the 3-5-2 formation, reintroducing Deeney surprisingly quickly, recalling Vydra in the 2nd leg match etc etc. He is still learning the management ropes, but he showed some great strengths last season. The likeability you have talked about in tandem with the reputation his playing career gives him, provide a very strong base to build from.

3. Nick Chainey - 24/06/2013

My only minor point of criticism with Ekstrand is he seems to leave his feet a bit too often for my liking. He’s not alone in this, but I’d hope that Franco issued all the defenders at the club a video of Lloyd defending against Palace – never, ever dive in.

4. Harefield Hornet - 24/06/2013

In 35 years I can’t remember a season when so many of the goals we scored are stuck so vividly in my mind; the build ups, the final approaches and the execution. I did think initially it was because they were obviously recent memories and therefore fresh but I now know it’s because this was the most memorable season of the lot in terms of sheer quality. Let’s pray it wasn’t a pinnacle that cannot be matched again.

petebradshaw - 24/06/2013

Fair point but I would settle for the odd one off a shin. And not a la Battochio v Huddersfield… 🙂

Harefield Hornet - 25/06/2013

We were the leading scorers in the division by a decent margin and we all love seeing spectacular goals but I guess you’re referring to games like Millwall away!

5. GoldenBoy60 - 24/06/2013

Whilst you were not critical of Joel Ekstrand I though he was better than you suggested. Tough rugged and 6′ 1″, he hardly got beat in the air he was deceptively quick to cover and get into good defensive positions. He is technically very comfortable and can play off either foot. Physically he is powerful but I thought he got a bit tired towards the end as if he was carrying people around with him at times. Although a tough Swede I thought the endless competitiveness of the Championship caught up with him and the bookings increased as the season neared the end. But for me he was outstanding and am hoping we have him back. His second season now he has experience of the Championship, could show him to be the best defender in the Division. Perhaps he could score a few more goals from set pieces, but this guy is a proper player. he can only get better.

6. NickB - 24/06/2013

Well done Matt, concise, insightful and generous. Agree with many of the excellent comments; AYP KL also did it for me with Zola, Nani and Duxbury – hope these events continue.
Now go and put your feet up with a glass of something chilled 🙂

7. Ed - 26/06/2013

Thanks Matt and Ian for another great season’s blogging.

The end of term report was particularly apt this year, even
though the use of loans has made the ‘Next Season’ prediction trickier. With so many players having an chance to be here next season, rather than knowing they either will or won’t be, a per player review is all the more relevant.

To pick up on a couple of things: FF has undoubted star quality. At the start of the season, it was the prospect of seeing him play that encouraged me to make it to games when normally it would be too far, or I’d be too busy. And having a Zola as manager really is a real privilege.


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