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Watford 2 Granada 0 (27/07/2013) 27/07/2013

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1-  Gah, pre-season’s rubbish, isn’t it?  Half-arsed loafing around, “it’s all about fitness at this stage”.  Everyone gets a run out, result doesn’t mean anything.  After the anticipation of the summer the wind is taken out of your sails by this thing that looks like football but isn’t quite… was this what you’d been pining for for weeks whilst trying to make do with minority sports?  So difficult to read anything into it, has no bearing on how things are going to turn out, you learn nothing and leave the stadium vaguely bored and feeling a bit silly to have wasted an afternoon on it, let alone looked forward to it.


2- Let’s talk about the new boys first of all, since they were surely a big motivation of attendance for a very respectable near-5000 crowd (we’ll get to that).  Iriney was the first to make an impression, snarling into a tackle within 30 seconds of the start and giving away the first of surely a large number of free kicks at Vicarage Road.  This one was harsh, but there was no denying that this was a different kind of exotic import.  A pivot comfortable with the ball, twisting away from trouble and into space effortlessly, spreading play with a first-time pass to a bouncing ball, and very comfortable to be without it, delighted to be without it, combative.  And in the referee’s ear for 45 minutes.  Just what the doctor ordered.

Next to make himself known was Gabriele Angella, a monstrous centre-back who can head the ball further than I can kick it.  Disciplined defensively, he combined the Lloydy thing of standing up and standing up and just taking the ball with the Fitz Hall thing of being a big hard bastard and the Marco Cassetti thing of being composed to the point of this-is-just-too-easy-boredom on the ball. Just a pre-season friendly, yeah yeah yeah.  But… bloody hell.

And then Fabbrini. Sorry for using Pro-evo as a reference point too frequently, but it kinda works… you know when you have a player with maximum ratings for control and awareness and balance such that he basically can’t be knocked off the ball and glides through tackles despite falling over with a player hanging off his shirt?  That.  His goal was a marvellous, gorgeous thing, shuffling away from close attention just outside the area left of centre and fashioning just about enough space to pile a shot into the top corner with the poise and accuracy of a golfer chipping onto the green.  Roberto in the Granada goal didn’t move. Majestic.

The other new boys were merely very good.  McGugan was lively and positive and confident.  Faraoni, agile and quick and athletic with a hell of a pass on him.  Acuña, tidy but quiet… until he found a pass to slip in Anya for a composed second.  Reece Brown… perhaps an odd signing at this stage, but comfortable enough here, big and strong.

And the others.  The old new guys, and the old, old guys.  Deeney, a monster, unplayable.  Forestieri, impish and irrepressible.  Anya, roaring down the left in the second half, a force of nature.  Battocchio, on in the second half and bursting down the right and looking and holding and feinting and holding and playing the most perfect cross in for Forestieri to scissor a shot top corner, a fine stop from sub keeper Karnezis – the only fine stop of the afternoon in truth – keeping him out.  Murray, in and involved.  Smith, a good 45 patrolling in Iriney’s position.  Only a pre-season.  But wow.

3- And this was far from a stroll in the park.  Granada’s attack limited them last season and they didn’t put enough pressure on our defence… but they were tough and competitive and organised and very up for it.  It never quite got nasty but it was certainly lively, Deeney, Fabbrini and Iriney all receiving close attention.  Two weeks behind us in preparation they may be but they’re still a top flight Spanish side and they looked it.  Iriney’s replacement, Chilean Manuel Iturra (and refer here for a reliable listing of their lineup) looked very much the part, Diakhité and Mainz in the centre of defence were tough and defiant and had to be. No rolling over here, I don’t remember a more competitive pre-season game.

4- If there’s a grumble it’s that the club underestimated the level of interest, or underaccommodated for it.  The queues for tickets were halfway up Occupation Road forty minutes before kick-off, and the Rous Stand heaving as we entered ten minutes later.  Folk were trickling in long after kick-off.  Sometimes being anally retentive and pre-ordering tickets for a pre-season game has its advantages.  Only one refreshment kiosk was open leaving folk sweltering in the heat…  difficult to judge, difficult to get right perhaps.  But a bit of a shame.  Not that it stopped half a dozen noisy Granada fans from making themselves known and enjoying themselves… rarely has a queue for a hot dog been as noisy or flamboyant.

5- There’s been a deal of bitching and whining from elsewhere over the summer, ever since the futility of that there loophole thing being closed became apparent.  “I thought they were under a transfer embargo”.  “I think they’re a disgrace”.  “the football authorities have got no balls”.  “Udinese feeder side”.  “Udinese B”.  “They’ll just move back to Udinese if they’re any good”.  “They’re not really your players”.  “You’ve abandoned your academy”.  And my personal favourite, “Watford don’t really exist any more”.

A lot of people are going to have a miserable, outraged season on this evidence.  Bless.

Come on!



1. Kris - 27/07/2013

I am approaching this season with a mix of exaltation and concern. Seeing you write so positively about our new recruits puts my mind at ease somewhat.

If Zola can keep the dressing room happy – some good players will be left out of the side every week – then we look as strong as I have seen us going into a new season.

Question is how we react to wearing the favourite’s tag rather than the perennial underdog’s.

I for one can’t wait to find out.

2. Barry French (@Barry2103) - 27/07/2013

Thanks for the report. Answered all my questions and more!!

3. Keith Hannigan - 28/07/2013

Lord, the anticipation and expectations are almost too much, aren’t they? Are we really going to be this good?

Since I can only follow the match on Horner Player and can’t actually see what’s happening in the midfield, can you help me out with my fretful concern about the the two great absences, Vydra and Challobah? Last year, we were at our best when we bossed possession and then dazzled teams with our passing. The lightning counter attacks helped also. Two of the key pieces of that approach were the glittering, now departed, kids. Iriney may be snarling and comfortable, but can he do what Challobah did to possess the ball and orchestrate our possession. (I have trouble remembering any games last year where he played really well but we lost anyway.) Moreover, if teams don’t have to worry about Vydra’s pace, will the defensive line be able to creep up and make our possession game that much harder? The new attackers seem talented but not really lightning fast, no?

I feel better about the defense. Assuming Iriney is going to be as good a destroyer as we all expect, and we avoid the back line injury cataclysm we had last season, I think we’ll ship fewer goals this season than last. But will our own scoring come as easily?

Fretful anxiety notwithstanding, bloody hell indeed. This could be remarkable.

Matt Rowson - 28/07/2013

Judged on yesterday’s evidence, the Chalobah possession thing won’t be a problem. I agree that he was perhaps underappreciated as the pendulum, setting the tone for so much of our play last season (on his better days)… but I don’t think we’ll suffer there. If Iriney isn’t quite as composed in possession he’s more than good enough and gives us an awful lot more in other departments. Possession-wise, we dominated a Spanish top tier team yesterday so I have no concerns on that score.

As for Vydra… yes, that’s a fair point that was made during the game. It’s not obvious where there’s a stock goal… a ball through to a haring Vydra, an Ardley cross dumped in at the far post for Heidar. And no terrifying pace amongst our senior forwards, different kind of threat. The situation you describe is quite likely… to counter it, the pace of Faraoni and Anya (combined with the discipline of Iriney on the cover), the ability of Fabbrini and McGugan to commit people, and the quality of the passing are all potent weapons. But… yes, this is a potential concern.

Defence wise I think we’re a lot stronger personnel wise. We’ve lost Hall, but gained Angela and potentially this Algerian guy, with Cassetti now indisputably in the back three rather than a wing back. Plus Iriney as an experienced shield. So I agree on that score.

Yes, it could be remarkable.

Steve - 28/07/2013

Only down side for me was Cassetti looked very suspect at times and probe to a silly free kick

Roger Smith - 28/07/2013

It sounds as though we’ll be relying on the officials to spot the inevitable shirt pulling as our forwards glide through the opposition’s defence. Hope they do better this season than last!

Maybe we should sport disposable shirts made of rice paper, so that all the defender is left with is a handful of evidence?

4. Andy73 - 28/07/2013

Fabbrini oozed class throughout. Reminded me of Klinsmann when he made his debut in a friendly at the Vic.
Angella was so comfortable but let’s see how he copes with a big, aggressive Championship forward. But GFZ can probably budget for scoring 10 goals fewer this season as we might well concede 15/20 fewer.
Connor Smith looked really tidy in the centre and seems to be ahead of Murray now.

Those Granada fans must have been feeling like a 4 year-old realising that their new-born brother was now centre of mum and dad’s attentions.

Roll on Brum.

Steve - 28/07/2013

Connor Smith is a different type of player he took up the holding role when Iriney went off I see Murray more as a Abdi back up with Battocchio and Hogg as the box to box midfielders

Matt Rowson - 28/07/2013

agree with this. but both Murray and Smith were encouraging yesterday.

Andy73 - 28/07/2013

Wasn’t suggesting Smith and Murray were competing for the same position. Just that, on the limited evidence of the second half, academy-graduate Smith has come on (technically and physically) more than academy-graduate Murray.
I would wager Smith will get more First Team game time than Murray this season.

5. Steve - 28/07/2013

Keeper didn’t move as he was wrong footed ball took a slight defection

Good points well made would still like to see a Vydra type player that can counter and open a team up with pace

Genuinely excited about what the season holds what odds 100 points and 100 goals

6. Hornet Down Under - 28/07/2013

vydra will be back

Matt Rowson - 28/07/2013

that would be hilarious. we’ll see.

Scott - 28/07/2013

Unlikely to happen, Vydra’s been included in Udinese’s 25 man Europa League squad, so its a big money move or a season playing with the Zabrette methinks.

7. Rob Payne - 30/07/2013

If another Championship club had been taken over by the Pozzos, and signed 15 players from Udinese in one summer, wouldn’t we quite rightly call them Undinese B? Doesn’t the fact that Hodson has gone, Thompson not been given a shirt number, say that we are going to see a lot less from our academy? Some of the criticism we get is stupid, but I can’t help but feel some of it is justified. I have always been a Watford fan first and football fan 2nd, but a team in the championship effectively being given 16 players from a Serie A parent club doesn’t really seem, to use a cricket expression, “In the spirit of the game,” does it?

Matt Rowson - 31/07/2013

I think we might have done, but only if we’d been evaluating the situation superficially at a distance, as many of these comments have been. I don’t have a problem with people getting the wrong end of the stick, I DO have a problem with being shouted down with an ignorant ill-informed opinion as if the person with the opinion has thought about it more than I have.

Less from our academy? Possibly. But kids like Thompson and Hodson, however good and encouraging, were getting as many games as they were out of necessity. With no money, three options. Spend money anyway (no), recruit aging hacks (no) or develop your own kids. Now our circumstances have changed and we don’t need to hang on to kids that don’t look like top players. However we HAVE given long contracts, commitments, to Smith, Murray, Hoban, Bond, Mensah, Assombalonga… so we’ve hardly abandoned our academy.

As for “in the spirit of the game”… we have been bought out by owners with a good record and a good infrastrycture. The alternative, even forgetting Bassini, was being squeezed on both sides by FFP (“you can’t sign players”) and EEEP (“you can only develop the scraps that the big clubs don’t want”). Not much of a future there. My conscience is clear.

Rob Payne - 31/07/2013

I take your point about a lot of the criticism being ill informed, especially in regard to the transfer embargo. Also the long contracts given to young players are encouraging, I fear we will not see too much playing time for a lot of them though. Without a run in the team I don’t see how our young players will prove themselves and ever be able to nail down a first team place.
I personally enjoyed Malky’s two years in charge where we played at times fluid attacking football with great finds from the scouting system, and youngsters. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti watching class players that have played at the top level in Italy and Spain turning out for the Golden Boys, but I don’t want to see 8 or 9 players sourced for us by Udinese, with a loan from a premier team and 1 or 2 academy graduates around the first team squad if we’re lucky. Of course I could be, and very much hope I am, wrong. The emergence of Hoban last year was a very welcome surprise!

My comments on the spirit of the game were not aimed at the Pozzos as people. I have nothing to quibble over their record, it is fantastic and encouraging. Of course I would rather have them pulling the purse strings than Bassini. My concern is for the greater good of football as a game. I cannot have a totally clear conscience about the way our player recruitment seems to work. I could be ill informed, but it is my understanding that Udinese have signed players for themselves, and then they come straight to us, and are now Watford players. Some of these player Udinese brought for £5million and we sign them on a three year contract. So What did we pay for them? It’s of course undisclosed. It appears to me that we are being given players by a parent club, that may not be costing us anything other than wages, we may even be getting help with those. To me this is not a positive move for the future of football in this country outside of the premier league. I cannot help but feel if another club recruited players in this way we would say it is unfair, and is bad for football. Yes, of course it is good for Watford, certainly in the short term, hopefully the long term, but that doesn’t stop me thinking it’s not quite right. I don’t want to become Millwall, taking pride that nobody likes us, and just shrugging our sholder, and reaping the benefits.

It’s easy for people to say to me, and they have, if you don’t like it don’t go. Well it’s not really that easy. Watford is part of me and always will be, and I admit that this is an exciting time, and yes watching Abdi is better than watching Ross Jenkins, but the level of pride I feel in watching a team with 5 or 6 academy graduates securing a mid-table finish, and watching a team of players secured by Udinese’s scouting system and given to us possibly for free, winning the league will not be the same.

Matt Rowson - 02/08/2013

well argued Rob but I can’t say I agree with you. As Andy infers below, what the Pozzos have done is simply a vastly more efficient way of investing in the team. Investing in a way that means we’re still developing players, albeit some are Algerian, Swedish, Italian rather than (only) from Hemel and Oxhey.

8. Andy73 - 01/08/2013

From our owner’s perspective, Watford FC was purchased as a club with potential that required ‘start-up capital’ investment to enable development and eventually to become self-sufficient/profitable.
The movement of existing player contracts from Udinese was and still is an expedient way to grow Watford in the short-term. Is it, in essence, any different from a new owner spending ~₤30m on players in the open market?
You write of “Udinese’s scouting system” but once we are generating similar revenues (i.e. in the EPL), it will be just as much OUR scounting system. I expect we will increasingly see Watford directly purchasing exciting Pozzo-scouted prospects and developing them on in our Academy and via loans-out. We’ve seen this already with the Ikpeazu signing.
It’s fair to assume that our Academy will, in future, contain more youngsters from overseas or further afield in the UK, with fewer local lads – this is an inevitable statistical outcome of the large jump in required standard of talent.
Despite the success of our Academy to-date in producing professional players that represented our first team, how many in the past 10 years have met our new benchmark standard?

Personally, the important thing to me is the attitude of the players and how much they want to represent my club. For example, last season I got as much pleasure seeing Forestieri develop as a Watford player as Hoban (UK, Academy) and Deeney (UK, transferred). But i guess others will see things differently.

Rob Payne - 03/08/2013

I totally agree about the attitude of players being the most important thing. I read the guardian not the daily mail and have nothing against foreigners generally. When it comes to football though, I do worry that if, as you say our academy will have more youngsters from overseas then local players will have less of a chance, but I take both yours and matt’s point that if they are good enough, they will play, and I hope this is the case.

I also agree that Forestieri’s development last year was fun to see. He went from being a bit of a hogger and a bit of a diver, to our very own Latin Peter Beardsley by the time Blackburn came to the Vic. This is a totally personal thing though that I would have preferred it if that had been the story of Shaun Murray’s season. I do realise this makes me sound a bit stupid.

I am going to start arguing against myself now, but you have inspired me… Forestieri when he came represented all my worst fears for what the Pozzo Watford would look like, he didn’t play with the team, he dived a lot, and while he looked exciting the end product didn’t live up to expectations. Obviously as the season went on it was obvious that The Pozzos, and Fernando were both good for Watford.

There is still something that holds me back though, and I think it is just a personal thing. I agree with almost everything you guys have said, but there is just something that holds me back form diving right in and being certain that the points you make are actually a good thing! A slight unease, guilt perhaps, about this situation. I’m 33 and my first season of going to more than 1 or 2 games was 87/88, so my defacto experience of Watford is the underdog, with our backs against the wall. One of my top 5 away games is Bramel Lane under Lewington after the wage cut. Now I don’t want to be in that position again, the worries about the future and everything, but that is the kind of excitement I’m used to, and I’m normally pretty slow to adjust.

I know we still have our identity, we are still a community club, the players we have signed are almost all likeable and give 100%. I think I just feel odd about us being in this position.

I know we aren’t breaking any rules, and it’s just like spending 30 million, but I’ve always disapproved a bit of clubs that did that anyway. Now there is part of me that disapproves a bit of us. I know I have to suck it up and let go of wanting a management team of Kenny Jacket and Nigel Gibbs, football like the world is changing, I should accept it and get on with it, I know. It’s just the future that Andy maps out isn’t the future I pictured in my head.

Sorry, this is like therapy, but it’s good to get it off my chest. I supppose my origonal point was that in response to Matt’s comments on his excellent as alwyas thunks, was that some of the stick we are going to get will be justified, we’d be giving it if we were in their shoes, and that what is good for Watford FC isn’t necessarily good for football as a whole.

Anyway, the season starts today. This will all be forgotten I guess. All I hope for this season with our squad looking as it does, is that the idiots aren’t booing us off in October after a 1-1 draw at home.

Come on you Horns.

Andy73 - 11/08/2013

Nice one Rob. I do understand your sentiments, and a look at the attendance figures for last season suggests many other Watford fans also felt uncomfortable with what was happening. Maybe yesterday’s near full-house indicates the balance of the argument has shifted for many ‘Pozzo-sceptics’.

Another reason I quickly embraced the new regime was the style of football that Zola bought. I go with my 10 year-old daughter and the method of football we were watching at Watford in her first years coming was a long way from the game she was being taught at her club.
She was gaining an impression that proper skilful passing football was what you watched on telly and supporting Watford was a slightly different experience. Now we can marry the two and I can fend off pressure to get Sky!

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