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End of Term Report Part 7 19/06/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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33 – Stefano Okaka

There’s something wonderfully uncomplicated about Stefano.  Whilst the cult status suggested by his marvellous cameo debut at West Ham was never quite fulfilled thereafter we’ve nonetheless been able to rely on him for bullying and battering duties throughout.

If he’s not yet convinced everybody, it’s worth bearing in mind that he’s a victim of circumstances to an extent.  We look at Troy’s season and allow for the lack of creativity and supply for much of the campaign;  Stefano was feeding off the same scraps.  Similarly, whilst he began the season as one of a number of attacking weapons the sale of Ighalo left us with few options – and little variety – up front.

Next Season: Okaka is strong with his back to goal and attacks the near post well;  as one of a range of options – or given a more reliable supply – he’ll be an asset.

37 – Roberto Pereyra

That was the “oh for f***’s sake” moment of the season.  There were lots of them, obviously… any number of injuries, goals conceded and flimsy defeats in the tail of the season.  But this was the one, on any number of levels.  You can look at it from the point of view of him being increasingly the component of the midfield that allowed everything to flow.  Or you can look at it from the point of view of, as a supporter of a club with short-term aspirations of mid-table at best, one of the reasons to get excited about coming to the game.  Either way the innocuous but costly injury at Man City in December was a downer.

He’s tougher than I expected.  You sign an midfielder from Juventus (Juventus!) for a record or close-to-record fee and you kind of expect the silky touch and the awareness.  They’re great, but they’re a given or should be.  The industry, the willingness to get a foot in were an attractive bonus… even if it was the loss of that touch and awareness that penalised the rest of our season.

Next Season: Omitting him from the squad despite his anticipated fitness in April was a no-brainer, but we can expect to see him ready to go on August 12th.  Like a new signing, as the saying goes.

Walter Mazzarri

I’m sure you’ve all had the jokes.  I try to get in first now… “well, it was about time.  I’m scheduled in for a turn in March I think…”.

But it was the right decision.  I don’t think those – the majority? – who thought that way are being blasé, educated to be callous about changes in head coach by the last few seasons.  Or rather… perhaps we are, but this isn’t evidence of it.  Mazzarri leaving was the right thing for the club anyway.

The connection with the supporters is one obvious thing.  It’s not enough on its own, clearly, nobody would have been complaining if his detached manner had been paired with exciting football and good results.  I’d argue that Slaviša Jokanović wasn’t significantly stronger in this department.  The difference was that firstly, he tried… this shows that unlike Mazzarri he either saw it as important and/or was sensible enough to be taking advice from those inside the club who would surely have been emphasising that this was a good idea. Neither was true of Mazzarri.  Secondly, Jokanović didn’t come out with complete bollocks after a defeat;  it helped that there weren’t many of them, obviously… but when we were poor he said we were poor.  Mazzarri was credited with all sorts of fanciful nonsense after a defeat and in doing so, inadvertently, echoed Gianluca Vialli. Not a good thing.

You can look at the fact that we stayed up and say “well that ought to be enough for Watford”.  Even if you accept that, however, retaining a head coach isn’t about what’s just happened, it’s about where it’s going.  The most telling damnation of Mazzarri’s management was the utter lack of buy in on the pitch from players who looked, to varying degrees, demoralised, unconvinced and frustrated.  Staying up last season didn’t come with a good feeling about how the next was going to go.

There were good results, obviously.  Moments that suggested that he had something… I don’t think he lost the majority until well after Christmas.  The thing is, those results… Manchester United, Leicester, West Ham, Arsenal…. betrayed something else, something that the vacuous, lazy commentary of pundits paid for unresearched opinions rarely acknowledged or suggested awareness of.  That this was the best squad Watford have ever had.  Yes, the benchmark has changed, it’s a competitive division and we’ve only rarely been in the top flight during the era when large multi-national squads have been the thing… nonetheless.  This was a squad that shouldn’t have been looking over its shoulder in April.

The injuries didn’t help, obviously.  We’ll never know quite what he might have achieved with a more reasonable hand – not just fewer injuries, but a less systematic targeting of areas of the squad simultaneously, culminating in the ludicrous Manchester City fiasco when six centre-backs were unavailable.  The flipside of that of course is the frequent suggestion that Mazzarri’s training regime was a root cause of these problems, and certainly the long list of strains and pulls are the sort of thing that are famously “preventable”.

One mark in Walter’s favour, as we’ve already highlighted in this series, was his willingness to involve young players, and not just when forced to pitch them into the first team but throughout the season.  Some welcome long-termness there, nobody’s going to argue against that as a strategy.  Ultimately however there was just much too much in the “against” column and not nearly enough reasons to believe.  Having seen the common purpose which Marco Silva had instilled into what ought to have been a basket case of a club when we went up to the KC Stadium in April, it’s difficult not to be positive about the coming season.  This wouldn’t have been the case had the change of management not happened.

Next Season: Mazzarri, it has been reported, wants to stay in England.  One can only hope that his interpreter has good interview style, for his sake.

End of Term Report Part 6 15/06/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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25 – José Holebas

You know how it is. Think about that mate of yours, the one with the really annoying habit. The one how talks too much, or who’s a bit too opinionated. If they weren’t your mate you’d be far less tolerant; if they were just someone you wandered past in a shopping centre, or on the bus, they’d piss you off but because they’re your mate you know the good stuff too. You know that they’re fundamentally sound, their flaws become quirks that you accommodate.

A year ago, José Holebas wasn’t one of the good guys. His first season in England had seen him competing with and often losing out to Nathan Aké in the left back role and publicly venting his frustrations on social media. Now, after a season as undisputed left back punctuated by frequent explosions of frustration and bloody-minded determination, you look on that first campaign in a different light. One of the most reliable members of the team, if his discipline was a blemish you can at least cling to the fact that the bookings for dissent were much less frequent in the second half of the campaign. Being booked for a good hack feels more honest, somehow.

Next Season: So José’s now one of the good guys, but he turns 33 in a couple of weeks’ time. A full-back – let alone a wing-back – at that age needs at least a reliable deputy.

27 – Christian Kabasele

Admittedly, being a lower ranked centre-back and not a popular old boy presents you at something of a disadvantage in terms of making an impression. Nonetheless, one year on and despite seven starts (plus nine as sub) we don’t know an awful lot more than we did a year ago when Kabasele looked kind of mobile and kind of OK in pre-season. Since then… we’ve learned that Kabasele is half decent as an attacker. That he’s prone to unfortunate attacks of cramp at inopportune moments. And. Umm.

Whilst it’s tempting to think of Kabasele as the youngster – he’s the youngest of our six senior centre-backs – he’s 26. Hardly a spring chicken, and not someone with a load of development left in him. He’s versatile, useful to have around, and if he’s happy to stay then he’s fair enough as cover.

Next Season: But you fancy he might not get that chance…

29 – Étienne Capoue

The aggravating thing is that he’s so nearly completely brilliant. Nearly. Occasionally he’s reaches those levels… the herculean win at the Emirates was built on his shoulders. But some of the time it’s that willingness to take charge, to be the main man, that’s missing. He’s indisputably one of our most talented players but you’d want him to be more of an influence, more than a leader and a driving force than he actually is.

If he were, he wouldn’t be playing for us, and so on and so forth. And let’s not overstate it, he’s still a fine footballer to be wearing a Watford shirt and a weapon that’s easily taken for granted. Significant, too, that his versatility in the midfield, his availability to do a number of different jobs perhaps doesn’t help him… no goals throughout last season in a conservative midfield, four in the first five games of this when given attacking responsibility before being shunted for other duties.

So he’s still an asset. Still a favourite, probably, given the ongoing popularity of “We’ve got Capoue…”, and also the best headline of the season (“Mou’s blue after Capoue Kerpow”). It’s just… well, you know.

Next Season: There’s a suggestion that serious competition for a midfield place would force more of those Arsenal performances out of Capoue. Would be nice to be able to test that theory.

32 – Brandon Mason

Yes, I know it was forced. I know that it happened when there wasn’t much of an option, but give Mazzarri credit. He was willing to blood the kids when the time came; not only that, but was rotating the youngsters in and out of the first team squad (and often into benchwarming duty as part of the matchday squad) throughout the season. Little evidence of that during the previous campaign.

Brandon Mason is completely brilliant. Tough, positive, fearless, his cavalier performance against Burton in the cup was a tremendous thing and the sticking out of the chin and shunting Gabriel Jesus into the hoardings on the thankless last game of the season was a rare highlight of the afternoon.

He’s flawed, obviously, but that almost adds to the attraction. It would be less warming somehow if Mason were a prodigy, so clearly ready that bringing him in and involving him was harder to squint at as evidence of a welcome return to a strategy of blooding some kids. His positional sense isn’t great, his discipline isn’t great. It doesn’t matter. That will come. Brandon Mason is completely brilliant.

Next Season: Onwards and upwards.

End of Term Report Part 5 12/06/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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21 – M’Baye Niang

The first thing to acknowledge is that this was ultimately a very successful loan. Niang impressed on his debut, that magnificent win at Arsenal, but was absolutely fundamental in two other big wins against Burnley and West Brom. Games that might very easily have been lost but for his vital, eye-catching contributions, a fine goal and a fine assist in each. So… he played a massive role in two crucial wins, and maybe that was the difference. Maybe, without those six points, we’d have been a more catchable target for Hull, say. We’ll never know.

The other regard in which the loan was successful is that both parties probably recognised that this wasn’t destined to be a long term partnership. Not that this was necessarily an option in January but… we could have bought him after all. Perhaps his attitude would have been… more convincing, more wholehearted had he made that commitment but as it was he never looked like he was sure he wanted to be here. The ability that he occasionally betrayed to shift up a gear and simply sizzle past a hapless marker, or whip in a vicious shot having cut inside only made his louche diffidence for the rest of the time more aggravating. Perhaps his heart was never in it, but media reports that he didn’t intend to stay came hot on the heels of those that suggested that we were only interested in a deal more favourable than the terms of the right-to-buy stipulated in the loan deal. Maybe we’re both better off out of it.

Next Season: Some reports link him to Premier League clubs, others suggest he doesn’t want to stay in England. At his best he is a top player, the sort of player who might play for Milan. But you’ve got to earn the right to do so, and its hard to see him recapturing those heights without a change in attitude.

22 – Daryl Janmaat

Daryl Janmaat was an exciting signing. Daryl Janmaat was a proper Premier League footballer. Yes, he’d been part of a relegated Newcastle side but no matter, he’d been a stand-out player. And he’d played in the World Cup and everything for, like, Holland. Big time.

He can’t defend for toffee, obviously. Had we stuck to the wing-back thing he’d have been absolutely fine; as a full-back, less convincing. And he seems incredibly brittle… not elastic popping hamstrings or anything concerning, just a creative ability to pick up different injuries… falling on his shoulder against Manchester United, colliding with Mapps in training.

But going forward he’s great. Bullish, direct, puts a decent ball in. Versatile enough to play right, left, even in a midfield role. I think he was always winning, and pretty comfortably, in that everyone saw the problems but wanted him in the side anyway. It was that goal at Stamford Bridge that sealed the deal for me. Brave, bloody minded and theatrical, a goal scored by force of personality. He’ll do.

Next Season: Would be good to see him injury free and a fixture in the side. But maybe not at full-back.

23 – Ben Watson

It started as it was to continue for Ben Watson. Ten minutes off the bench at Saints on the opening day curtailed by a last minute red card. Then… three more sub appearances in the League (one of which the hammering at Anfield), plus the cup humiliations against Gillingham and Millwall. Add a long spell injured – and being injured and having to work your way back to (merely) the sidelines would test anyone’s mettle – and you have a season to forget for Ben Watson.

Thing is, you’d still have him down as one of the strongest personalities in the squad. Solid, focused, professional. A player that makes other players play better, who keeps everything going. A stalwart under Quique Flores, will he get the chance to show us whether he’s still got it?

Next Season: You’ve got to fancy not. Home-grown or not, Ben is going to need to fight his way back in the context of a squad that’s constantly churning. A big ask.

24 – Odion Ighalo

Another one who seems so long ago simply because he spent so long leaving, on and off the pitch. The contrast is still extraordinary, between the Ighalo who looked so vivid and comfortable in his skin in the first half of last season and the tentative figure who spent far longer in the Watford side than his form might have warranted.

It’s not difficult to understand why we persevered. That ridiculous Ian Wright goal against Liverpool, the 15 goals in a first Premier League season and 20 in the blink of an eye the season before, the big offers from China unpursued last summer and the most mobile weapon in our attacking armoury was someone to be patient with as we waited for the goals to return.

It was a forlorn hope. His form this season seemed to desert him completely, his one goal in fourteen League starts a deflected effort at West Ham. The twisty turny run that preceded it suggested that this would kick things off for Iggy but that hope dissipated and accepting a £20m offer from China was a no-brainer in January.

Next Season: Iggy’s farewell was heartbreaking, his contribution massive; now at Changchun Yatai, struggling in the Chinese Super League, that goal and that song seem an awfully long way away.

End of Term Report Part 4 07/06/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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17 – Adlène Guedioura

It’s easily forgotten but Adlène was heavily involved in the first half of the campaign, in every matchday squad until the turn of the year before moving to Boro at the end of January. Easily forgotten partly because of the speed with which the narrative moves on and the recent past is consigned to history; also because throughout his involvement this season he felt like a stopgap, filling in until someone else came along (or regained fitness). He was already on his way out, in our heads.

Guedioura’s career is revealing in this regard. A first choice at Forest and at Vicarage Road during his Championship loan spells, he was only ever a bit part at Wolves, Palace or at Watford in the Premier League. The reality is that, as discussed before, his propensity to give the ball away is too expensive at the top level; in the Championship possession is traded more freely, Guedioura’s verve and elegance a rarer commodity. Stonking goals in Cup quarter-finals notwithstanding his career at Watford since signing permanently had never been convincing… passable as cover, a good agitator off the bench, but never looking like nailing down a starting berth by right.

Next Season: Due to a combination of inherent conservatism and, perhaps, trusting established defensive midfield options more Boro have restricted Adlène’s subsequent career to five cameos from the bench since January. Next season, as above, you’d fancy he could do rather better.

18 – Juan Camilo Zúñiga

There’s not much to say here, really. Zúñiga arrived on loan, ostensibly as a trusted lieutenant of Walter Mazzarri; experienced and versatile, clearly an asset. And I guess he was… certainly there’s a lot to be said for a player who can play in a wide range of positions reasonably diligently.

However I’m probably not the only one a little bit underwhelmed. It was quickly apparent that Zúñiga was going to struggle with 90 minutes of Premier League football, something he managed only twice during his year at the club. His busy scurrying might have been more valuable if sustainable for the duration of a match, the wing back role that he seemed to have been signed to compete for became a non starter; instead the Colombian became a regular substitute – 16 of his 22 appearances came from the bench – and was used infrequently after the turn of the year as injuries further limited his involvement.

There was that goal against United of course, probably the finest few seconds of the season, as part of a brief cameo that also saw him win the penalty that sealed the victory. Those minutes are what his Watford career will be remembered for.

Next Season: An option to buy was included in the loan; you’d be surprised if this was taken up.

19 – Jerome Sinclair

When I were a lad, and so forth. I don’t doubt that it’s always been the case that things was better in the old days when money wasn’t the heart of everything. Still. In 1999, less than 20 years ago, we broke our transfer record by spending £950,000 on Nordin Wooter. Now we’re punting £4 million on a maybe, a kid who might develop and might not.

None of which is Jerome Sinclair’s fault, but as yet he’s still a maybe. There’s clearly something there… quick feet, a turn of pace. But despite a lack of such attributes in the senior squad he never threatened to make an impact; perhaps more alarmingly he didn’t make any waves in the Championship either, albeit during a bizarre period at Birmingham City which probably wouldn’t have been chosen again in retrospect. He looks lightweight, and it would be a surprise if he featured significantly in this campaign.

Next Season: Another loan. And a red meat and Guinness diet.

20 – Mauro Zárate

Here’s another nagging voice. Yes, Mauro did well before his injury. Yes, he was the dominant figure on the pitch during that West Ham game and yes, his season-ending injury was a pain in the arse disaster in a season of pain in the arse disasters.

But the fact remains that he only started three games, none of which he finished. They were decent enough – a win, a defeat and a win that became a draw – but they’re not a basis on which to judge a fledgling Watford career. Zárate looks useful enough, he’s got pedigree but we honestly don’t know yet. He’s an older player in a squad of older players, it will be interesting to see what role he plays in a fully fit squad.

Next Season: We get a longer chance to see what we got.

End of Term Report Part 3 05/06/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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10 – Isaac Success

You don’t have to like someone to learn from them. Dad told me that after the thirty seventh GP I’d seen during my highly mobile childhood poured scorn on how I managed my diabetes, just like the others had done before changing everything. Dr King was a patronising scumbag, but I can’t remember what his advice was so I obviously didn’t take Dad’s wisdom to heart.

There’s a little voice reciting the line at the back of my mind now though. No, I didn’t like Mazzarri (we’ll get to him…), but that doesn’t mean he was wrong. Not about everything, not necessarily. And whilst it’s convenient to pick and choose the bits to trust, the criticisms levelled by Mazzarri at the unprofessionalism of Success’ approach aren’t something we’re in much of a position to judge.

He looks tremendously exciting, of course. Raw, sure. But powerful and quick and elegant and clever and unpredictable. In as much as I understand – or tolerate – minority sports I might compare him to Jonah Lomu. And yet… the player who cost either our highest or second highest transfer outlay, depending on which source you trust, has only been awarded two starts.  So what to believe?  Is he the precocious, extraordinary talent who executed any number of sparkling cameos, particularly earlier in the season, and so nearly scored Goal of the Ever late at Arsenal?  Or is he the slacker that Mazzarri implies, an unfavourable possibility fed fuel by rumours (stirred by an agent?) of moves to Palace or West Ham?  And if he’s both, which side wins?

Next Season:  We find out.

11 – Valon Behrami

It’s in the eyes.  That’s how you know.  Before he joined Watford, before we were able to judge for ourselves, I always felt that there was something not quite right.  Misinterpreting what lingered at the back of his leer as cockiness, modern-day-footballer-mercenary arrogance, I bemoaned his recruitment two years ago.  I was wrong.

I love the way that his legend is fuelled by titbits from the club, I almost don’t care whether it’s deliberate fabrication by the media team.  Robert Pereyra : “I’m not afraid of heights, but I’m afraid of Valon Behrami“; the excellent UCL diary series relating stories of youngsters being booted around. He’s simultaneously the archetypal modern footballer, playing in Italy, Germany, England, three World Cups… and a throwback.

One of rather few fond memories of Watford around 1990 came in a game against Port Vale when a forgotten visiting midfielder was putting the boot in with abandon, unhindered by the officials.  As the crowd bawled its frustration in the way that supporters of a poor team tend to do, Steve Perryman leaned across the bench and Gary Williams stood up and unzipped his tracksuit top like a superhero.  The rest was inevitable.  I’d like to think that Valon will always have that role, if he wants it.

Next Season:  But the suggestion has been that “only” 32 or otherwise, Valon’s legs aren’t going to permit him to sustain a Prem career for much longer.  He’s been sellotaped together for much of this season, and links to Sion aren’t the stuff that idle speculation is made of.  Hope I’m wrong, natch.

15 – Craig Cathcart

Ah.  Yes.  Craig Cathcart.

Easily overlooked in a season defined by everyone getting injured that Craig was injured more than most.  Three months out at the end of 2016, another six weeks at the tail of the campaign and all of this after a summer which had seen Craig’s stock rise even higher as Northern Ireland’s defence in particular did a sterling job in the Euros.

We shouldn’t forget about Craig, or write him off.  He’s a very fine defender and if it’s unreasonable to draw a cause-and-effect link between Craig’s availability and our record it nonetheless reflects well upon him that we won more games with him in the side (7) than we lost (6), those six including Spurs (twice), Chelsea and Manchester United.  Elegant, unfussy, not particularly flattered by being asked to play right back but a better stand-in than some, he would have been so helpful at many stages during his absence this season.

Next Season:  Hopefully a season free of injury to remind us what a gem we have.

16 – Abdoulaye Doucouré

And here’s an argument in Isaac Success’ favour.  Here’s the benefit of the doubt.

Having been signed in January 2016, a signing deemed such a catch that it was worth buying him even if we couldn’t use him and then loaning him out for half a season, an impressive half season by all accounts, Abdoulaye Doucouré was famously on his way out of the club in August before having kicked a ball for us in competitive action.  Except the paperwork didn’t quite get through.

Misjudging a player isn’t a criminal offence.  Even one deemed such an asset by others.  Maybe he wasn’t all he’d appeared.  Maybe he wasn’t going to “work” the way Mazzarri wanted to play.  Maybe he was a bad egg, maybe England wasn’t for him.  But Mazzarri was wrong.  Forced, ultimately, by the rampaging injury list to bring Doucouré in for more than just a second-string cup run out for the New Year’s Day hammering by Tottenham Doucouré took his chance and quite literally ran with it.

From that point on he never looked like dropping out again.  Strong, calm, elegant, his impact was such that he was afforded serious discussion when the Player of the Season vote came up despite not playing in the first half of the campaign (as an aside, it would have been interesting to see quite how close he came; the failure to publish the traditional breakdown disappointing).  Nor was there any evidence of him being restless – an interview published on the Official Site showed him to be settled and keen to stay, the family man who wouldn’t join the Hornets with his wife pregnant in the summer of 2015 hardly comes across as a disruptive influence.

Next Season:  One for Marco Silva to build his team around.

End of Term Report Part 2 01/06/2017

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.
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6 – Adrian Mariappa

What an peculiarly orthdodox career Adrian Mariappa has had.  Growing from captaining our youth team to the point where he was manifestly too good for the Championship, he has since been in the grey area of not quite being good enough to establish himself in a Premier League side. A first choice understudy, versatile enough to do a number of jobs pretty well, professional enough to apply himself to that role.  A jobbing Premier League footballer, if there is such a thing.

Confirmation that we’d re-signed Mapps was one of my favourite moments of last summer.  The game against West Brom was one of the highlights once the football got under way.  An hour in, Miguel gets a red card and Mapps is off the bench after two thirds of a season of being largely neglected on the sidelines, last cab off the rank.  And he was completely brilliant.  In any season, the guy kept in cold storage and wheeled on when all other options had been expended and down to ten men playing a blinder would have been cause for celebration.  In the context of this man being a Watford youth product and ex-Captain returned to the squad… his performance for that last half hour was the cherry on the evening’s cake.

Next Season:  Mapps’ half a dozen starts thereafter weren’t flawless, but he demonstrated that he’s a very capable defender, a great option to have.  He’s also home-grown, one of us.  As long as he’s happy with his lot, what’s not to like?  A bona fide Watford hero.

7 – Nordin Amrabat

A funny thing happened at Leicester.  In the context of a defeat that was simultaneously not reflective of our contribution to the game and yet utterly deserved, the frustrations of our impotence and trajectory boiled over in the stands.  We were then treated to a throwback that would have bestowed a warm nostalgic glow on a par with reviving a long-forgotten chant or seeing a former hero trot off the bench for the other lot except that we were too grumpy, and actually watching the crowd isolate a boo-boy was never much fun in the first place, a bit like that “we’re the riiiight side” chant but more so.  So after a few years with nobody particularly in the chair Amrabat briefly joined the likes of Dominic Foley, Bruce Dyer and Devon White on that uncelebrated list.

The boo-boy thing has always irked me, but Amrabat’s isolation seemed particularly harsh.  It’s not that he’s not inadequate…  last summer he was almost out of the door and now, eighteen months into his time at the club, we’re still not really sure what he’s for.  And yet… he’s never hidden.  He’s put a shift in at wing-back, as a winger, as a midfielder, as a wide attacker.  No, there’s nothing like enough end product and yes he has become incredibly frustrating as his dropping confidence has reduced the likelihood of him taking someone on from small to very small.  But he’s never hidden.  He’s always been there.  And at times of the season he was our most aggressive attacking threat.

Next Season:  Would be a huge surprise if Nordin used up one of our non-homegrown slots next season, as it was this.  He should leave with our best wishes.

8 – Tom Cleverley

In what was an unusually productive and successful January transfer window, one piece of activity stood out.  Such a sensible signing on so many levels…  experienced, good enough to have won England caps – and, therefore, contributing to the homegrown quota – and a popular former Player of the Season whilst on loan as a bonus.  Yet another indication that the club management know what the hell they’re doing… harder to judge based on less familiar names from abroad but few, if any, Watford fans would have doubted the value of this loan-with-an-option. A no-brainer.

We’ve all followed Tom’s career since his magnificent loan season under Malky Mackay.  The surprise, perhaps, is that his success has been so relatively limited.  That, and that the goalscoring, goal creating attacking midfielder that we witnessed has never really spread his wings in the Premier League, not even during a loan at Villa under Tim Sherwood who cited that loan as evidence of the sort of player Cleverley could be.  Eleven of his 27 senior goals to date came during that loan.

His loan this season started incredibly strongly.  He was busy and energetic, attracting and retaining possession in dangerous areas around the penalty box and providing dynamism to our attacking play.  In his second debut against Boro he got a touch to a long throw and was incredibly unlucky to hit the post… this was the player we remembered, bold and assertive.  Significant, then, that since an early flurry Tom’s form has been rather less consistent…  he’s still busy, still energetic, but his willingness to attack the box has receded.  He’s not looking for the ball in such positions any more.  It’s odd…  it’s as if the biggest obstacle to Tom’s success is in his head.

Next Season:  A lynchpin of the side, without doubt.  Would be wonderful to see that attacking verve back in his game too.

9 – Troy Deeney

We’ll get to Walter later on, but it’s unavoidable at this stage to observe that if you want to make yourself terminally unpopular with the Watford support, pissing off and ultimately alienating Troy is a good place to start. Forget the stuff about no player’s bigger than the club and so forth, that’s all true, obviously, but not relevant here. You have a captain who should be the easiest person in the world to keep on side. Someone who is so utterly focused and motivated by the success of the team, so honest and yet considered in every public utterance. Someone who doesn’t like being rested – who would – but who would surely have responded positively if, for example, being dropped from the starting eleven at Spurs, just after a monstrous performance against West Brom and on a run of six goals in eight starts had been accompanied by a proper conversation. You can only imagine that it wasn’t.

Troy has had more imposing seasons on the pitch, rattled in more goals, but can cite plenty of mitigation. The almost total lack of creativity that stymied the side for much of the season can’t have been any fun to play under. The frequency with which a side bereft of confidence or strategy resorted to hitting long balls towards their isolated totem. That he still got into double figures for the sixth season running, the first Watford player ever to achieve that in League games, that he was still our most reliable head on the ball defending set pieces, that he was still every inch the leader off the pitch, candid enough to say what we’re thinking, brave enough to front up to the crowd at Hull, smart enough to steer Dion Pereira towards his ovation at Leicester. We’re very very lucky. In the absence of an outstanding candidate and without detracting from Seb or Heurelho he was my vote for POTS. There are clubs sniffing around again, as every summer, and a few Watford fans have been heard to speculate that maybe it’s right, maybe this should be the time. They’re wrong.

Next Season: Watford’s totem gives us so much. He will move on at some point, he can’t continue indefinitely, but the confidence with which he’s been awarded long contracts as the club’s highest earner every summer are testimony to his importance.