End of Term Report Part 8 05/06/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
41- Marco Motta
You can read too much into a monicker like “ex-Juventus full back”. Consider, perhaps, hushed awed tones on foreign shores as a club brings in “ex-Liverpool full back” Stephen Warnock, or “ex-Manchester United midfielder” Chris Eagles. In any era, let alone those of huge top flight squads, “ex-Juventus full back” covers a multitude of realities. As it turns out, and given that we were never likely to have pulled in a peak-career Lilian Thuram on a short term contract, we did pretty well out of Marco. His debut against Fulham was enough to confirm that we’d signed a tough, energetic, competent full back who was at the very least capable of providing Juan Carlos Paredes with some serious competition, and if he occasionally got caught flat footed and reacted with too much instinct and gusto and too little thought it was often with entertainingly brutal consequences. It cost him – and us – at Derby, but only after an extremely harsh red card call, albeit one that he’d afforded the opportunity to be made. Going forward he was bullish and willing, perhaps his best attacking performance coming in stomping all over the right flank in the first half of the final day of the season. All told, not a bad showing at all…
Next Season: …but evidently not enough, despite Motta’s stated eagerness to stay with us into the top flight. Which is probably fair enough; if Motta was a good, tough stopgap he was scarcely less erratic than Juan Carlos Paredes and considerably less of a bully. Nonetheless, seeing his Watford career being quietly brought to an end with a “decided not to offer a contract to…” statement was a little odd.
In the mid-eighties, looking back four managers would have meant looking back comfortably twenty years. Now, given the seemingly inevitable but as yet unconfirmed departure of Slav, we’re looking back scarcely nine months to Beppe Sannino, a period that seems like twenty years in your mind’s eye but actually wasn’t. As we’ve suggested before on these pages, the real surprise was not that Sannino resigned when he did but that he hadn’t gone during the summer; signed to do a job – to rescue the Hornets from their nosedive and bring some discipline and defensive shape to a side lacking much of either – he did that job quickly and effectively. Gregarious, emotional and popular with the supporters, there was never any great clamour for his dismissal from the stands. I’ve rarely seen as shameful a capitulation as that against Huddersfield on the last day of 2013/14 though, everything about that day reeked and even if players bear a lot of the responsibility for that you had to wonder where the united way forward was going to come from on the back of it. When Sannino was still ostensibly at the centre of a dressing room storm at the start of this campaign despite a reasonably strong start resultswise, it was only a matter of time.
Next Season: Beppe was Catania’s new boss within a fortnight of leaving Vicarage Road. He lasted three months, with Wikipedia currently citing a run of poor results and “a strained relationship with the club’s board”. It was good to see Beppe send his wishes on our promotion; one imagines that wherever this unusual character’s next position is, it won’t be undertaken quietly.
In all honesty there’s not a lot to say here. García had one match in charge, properly, before being put on medical leave and ultimately resigning altogether… we lost the match but I didn’t see it. All you can really reflect on is that those who questioned the job he’d done at Brighton as a commendation might want to reflect on Brighton’s season this time round, for all that they’d lost players in the interim. García and Watford were unlucky… the Hornets recovered, we hope that he will too.
Next Season: García reportedly turned down the Barcelona Sporting Director role in January in favour of searching for a management job in the UK. Not happened yet, but you wouldn’t rule it out.
I don’t really have a problem with Billy McKinlay’s services being disposed of, if I’m honest. Yes, it was only eight days (or whatever), but I don’t doubt that we paid him more than he was due (given that he never signed a contract), and it’s easy to sympathise with an anxious response to Brighton (H), when he sat up defensively against a moderate side and declared himself happy with a draw. To dispose of McKinlay at that stage took some balls, and will not have been done lightly… knee-jerk erratic behaviour has been characteristic of many other owners both at Watford and elsewhere, but not this lot. Some were anxious, most prepared to trust the Pozzo’s judgement. So what was really unfortunate was the decision to appoint McKinlay in the first place… given that something obviously happened quickly to cause Pozzo to revise that judgement. A difficult position for the owners, a new manager having just unexpectedly quit in such circumstances… but not our finest hour all told.
Next Season: McKinlay has joined David Moyes’ Real Sociedad coaching staff in November, his new side finishing twelfth in La Liga.
Inevitably, there are several versions of The Facts doing the rounds. Very loosely, at one extreme Slav has chosen to follow up his overseeing of promotion with an extraordinarily bold demand for a long, lucrative contract. At the other, such contract discussions as there have been have been brief, Slav was offered a token increase and when he didn’t accept it all negotiations ceased. The real real real truth, if there is such a thing, is probably somewhere on a sliding axis between the two. Assuming the first extreme for the moment… one can only support the Pozzos’ stance, however well Slav did last year (and we’ll get to that). As when they threatened to play hardball with Matej Vydra in the summer of 2013, the Pozzos’ model only stands a chance of working if you make the difficult decisions when the time comes. Bringing in players, building the squad, that’s the fun bit. Refusing to compromise on salary structure and contract format has to be part of that too. If the Pozzos made a habit of caving in to salary demands neither they nor Udinese would have lasted – and that’s the key thing, I thing, prolonged viability – as long or as well as they have. The other extreme, the Slav as disposable extreme… seems incredibly harsh, if true. But then, it’s their money and their decisions. What is absolutely clear, and has been clear throughout all of the managerial comings and goings of the season – is that we are doing more than paying mere lip service to the “continental structure” of the way the team is managed. The Head Coach is a vital role, but that’s all it is… it doesn’t define the whole club. Were that not so we would never have gotten ourselves promoted in such a perversely unsettled season. So… if Pozzo genuinely doubts whether Slav is the man for the next bit then my inclination is, with a heavy heart, to trust his judgement. It’s not like we have a choice for one thing. It’s not like he hasn’t earned a bit of slack for another.
To reflect, there can be no doubt that Slav did / has done, an extraordinary job; the suggestion that he was a leftfield appointment, someone with a track record based in leagues that we knew nothing about and therefore unqualified seems an awfully long time ago. He picked up a strong squad of players and blended it into something that we’d only glimpsed previously, or pictured in our mind’s eye. In the second half of the season the team was relentless, it was almost as if we wouldn’t lose a game without a mitigating circumstance – a dodgy decision, a freak late goal too late to overturn. Through it all, Slav’s rotation – something that Zola and Sannino had both been criticised for when thing went wrong – seemed like the easiest thing in the world. Hurdles were overcome, tactical surgery invariably produced improved second half performances and through his aggressively deadpan, monotone delivery he was on his way to becoming a cult figure…
Next Season: …so it’s a real shame that it ends as it appears to have ended. It’s not just about being successful as a supporter, you want to be part of something and associate with the people too, you want something tangible and consistent to be a part of. It doesn’t look like Slav will be part of that constant going forward, but will have plenty of options and however it’s been playing out, he’ll remain one of the most successful bosses in Watford’s history.
That’s it for the looking backward stuff (finally….). Enjoy the summer, we’ll be back before the fun starts again.
End of Term Report Part 7 02/06/2015Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
30- Jonathan Bond
More of the same from Bondy… still a decent looking prospect, still you’d like to see a bit more of him before giving him a shot at being first choice. His half a dozen games this time around only included one victory – at Stevenage in the League Cup – but were free of high profile goalkeeping errors. “Nothing to see here”. Which is all well and good, but at 22, “young for a goalkeeper” or otherwise, Bond needs to be getting more regular games.
Next Season: A competitive season long loan has been mooted, and assuming we bring in decent cover could only be a good thing.
31- Tommie Hoban
To build on the theme of last season’s corresponding entry, how utterly splendid to have Tommie not only back and fit following the ankle injury that kept him out for so much of the previous campaign… but returning to his previous trajectory, a prize asset, a rising star. Mark Warburton’s rather smutty attempts to undermine Hoban with articles in Brentford’s local press suggesting that the defender was set for a move to Griffin Park were made to look ever more fanciful as the season progressed, and Tommie imposed himself on the Watford first team. Not just an elegant, robust, fleet-footed centre back but, when needed, a left-back or even a galloping wing-back too, Hoban has sometimes suffered from having to cover the entire left side behind a galloping Ikechi Anya… but as at Millwall in particular this appeared to be less a case of Hoban having to accommodate defensive indiscipline from Anya than a deliberate strategy, a statement that Hoban could cover the entire left side (at a push) giving Anya the licence to create both goals in that game. That’s a hell of a statement of faith in a 22 year-old defender.
Next Season: An upping of the bar for Hoban. You wouldn’t back against him clearing it comfortably, and we’ll all be cheering when he does.
39 (#1) – Sebastian Bassong
You can kinda understand Norwich fans’ frustrations. The Canaries were always among the favourites to go up this season and we were outsiders at worst. Whatever the personal conflicts and clashes going on, lending an experienced stopper to a rival club to get them out of a hole always felt like an odd one. Actually, Bassong’s loan wasn’t hugely successful in terms of results… debuting on Slav’s first game in charge, the 3-0 win at Hillsborough, his loan spell included those four consecutive defeats and concluded with the desperate Boxing Day defeat to Wolves. Nonetheless, he looked a much more credible solution to the Physical, Experienced Centre-back problem than Gabriel Tamas had, and was ultimately one of the cornerstones on which our recovery was based. By the time he returned to Carrow Road a new boss was in charge in Norfolk, a development echoing Neil Warnock’s appointment at QPR during Heidar Helguson’s loan in 2009/10 in scotching our chances of holding onto him for longer.
Next Season: Famously, Sebastian ends the season with TWO promotion medals… had Norwich stayed down, you could see us going back in for him this summer. This would seem unlikely now, the more so given the recruitment of Sebastian Prödl.
39 (#2) – Matthew Connolly
Matt Connolly came in from Cardiff with a decent pedigree… however many promotions from the Championship in various circumstances, the decision to bring him in was instantly justified by the unfortunate injury suffered by Joel Ekstrand. He only started four games but was a significant, assertive presence for the most part… not totally flawless, he had a rash tackle in him, a rush of blood to the head, but generally a force for good who was able to step into a key role seamlessly and provide a sticking plaster to our promotion bid. And of course, that chest-thumpingly magnificent goal at Nottingham Forest was a thing of pure joy.
Next Season: Promoted to the Premier League three times previously, it’s nonetheless perhaps instructive that Matt has only made nine starts in the top flight. A Hatfield lad, you get the impression he’d be keen to extend his Hornets career and we could do worse – you’d not find me objecting. We might do better though.