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End of Term Report Part 7 11/06/2018

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

30- Orestis Karnezis

Orestis Karnezis is an experienced goalkeeper.   He’s played over 100 games in Serie A for Udinese, and been capped 49 times by Greece including all four of the national side’s games at the World Cup Finals four years ago.  His Watford career has not been unremarkable, beginning as it did with a cataclysmic collapse at Goodison and proceeding, two months later, with Karnezis replacing the initially injured Heurelho Gomes for the last three months of the season up until the final day.  In the bulk of his performances – following the disaster at Everton – Karnezis looked extremely competent,  unflashy, occasionally outstanding.  A more than adequate performance by a loan signing and nominally a back-up keeper.

And yet.  And yet…  he’s a bit like the contractor in the office who nobody bothered to introduce you to.  You nod as you pass each other in the corridor but he leaves no lasting impression and I doubt many Watford fans would recognise him if they passed him in the street.

Next Season:  …and to be fair, the professional indifference seems to be mutual, with Karnezis reportedly courting a move back to his native Greece.  Good luck to him, whoever he was.

33- Stefano Okaka

A very odd season for Stefano Okaka, who scored what was to be his only goal of the campaign with a fine header eight minutes into it and was immediately dropped as Marco Silva ummed and ahhed between Troy and Andre Gray.  Okaka was afforded one minute (plus injury time) in the bedlam at Goodison Park over the next four months and whilst used more frequently by Javi Gracia he nonetheless only started three games throughout the campaign.

The problem with Stefano is not that there are things that he’s not good at.  The same is true of all strikers to varying degrees.  The problem is that he doesn’t deliver on the things he IS good at with anything like sufficient reliability.  So… you want him to be roughing people up, to be charging after possession, to be attacking the near post and he has done all of these things but he has also all too regularly not done all of these things and a mardy so-and-so who isn’t delivering is far less endearing than one who is.

Next Season:   Perhaps a year later than might have been ideal for all concerned, it seems likely that Stefano will be heading off to play his football elsewhere next season..

37- Roberto Pereyra

Whilst Roberto Pereyra’s second season at Vicarage Road saw him play a lot more football than his injury-hit first, you feel that we still haven’t seen the best of Roberto Pereyra.  Twice during the season he has played himself into quite magnificent form, twice seen it interrupted by first a (relatively brief) injury and then by the end of the season.

In between there’s been quite a lot of Roberto playing pretty well – and hell, an Argentinian international, a player of this quality playing pretty well is still a fine thing.  But just… a little bit within himself, a little bit contained.   Not lazy, not indifferent, he’s a hard-working guy just…  not bold enough, not nasty enough, not in charge enough.

Because when he’s that good he really is that good.  At Stamford Bridge it was Pereyra that flayed Chelsea’s defence, absolutely irrepressible before departing with injury after 65 minutes with the Hornets 2-1 up.  In the last home game of the season he was aflame again with a mischievous performance scoring the opener and setting up the second.  Would just be nice to see him take a game between his jaws a little more often.

Next Season:  An area of the team where there’s all manner of competition, Bobby’s versatility should guarantee he’s near the top of the pile.

Marco Silva

Really, there’s not an awful lot left to be said that hasn’t been said before, but let’s say it all again anyway.

Marco Silva seemed to be a bit of a coup when he arrived in Hertfordshire last summer.  There were early warning signs when he publicly objected to the loan of Nordin Amrabat to Leganes despite, one assumes, being both fully aware and informed of the lay of the land and the extent of his influence on transfer dealings when he got here.  Nonetheless, we started the season in fine form playing positive assertive football and losing only two of our opening ten games – one, spectacularly to Man City and the other, the tenth, at Stamford Bridge having put Chelsea to the sword for much of the game.  The same run yielded six points from goals scored in dying minutes via draws with Liverpool and West Brom and late winners over Swansea and Arsenal.

And then things went wrong.  It’s tempting to remember Everton as the game where everything pivoted;  actually the Stoke defeat the previous week had been a miserable affair, the only away win the Potters would earn before Swansea on the final day.  It’s beyond dispute, however, that Everton’s approach negatively impacted our season;  you could argue that this was always a risk with a coup like this, that he would move on again very quickly if his stock held but…. surely not this quickly.  Not unless he was mercenary enough to want to walk away from a contract he’d only signed ten games earlier.

But other factors were at play also.  Silva’s high intensity game yielded thrilling results but demanded a lot of the players, and there was evidence of fatigue as early as October, particularly from Richarlíson who had played for a long time without a break.  I’d contest that the wheels would have come off in any case had Everton not made an approach, in part reflecting injuries to key men such as Nathaniel Chalobah, in part reflecting over-reliance on some other members of the squad and limited rotation, in part, frankly, reflecting Marco Silva’s inability to apply corrective action.  Rather surprising that in a situation where Silva appeared to retain the favour of much of the squad and, to a degree, the support (if not the boardroom) he wasn’t able to coax more than three league wins out of his final sixteen in charge. The more cautionary assessments of his time at Hull had suggested that the apparently lost cause before he arrived cast a favourable glow on all that he achieved. Undeniably, the end to the Tigers’ season in which they won one – against the Hornets – and lost five of the final seven suggesting an inability to right the ship or to manage his preferred intensity over a prolonged period sound familiar, albeit in a different context.

Next Season:   Silva’s departure was inevitable, perhaps the more so given how things have transpired over the summer.  Watford’s peevishness in the light of his departure was both unseemly and completely understandable.  It’s quite possible that the growing list of Hornets being linked with Everton is mere paper talk, but if it has any validity it reflects poorly on Silva’s judgement – both in terms of how strong he believes his new hand is, and in the narrow focus of the players on his shopping list.  Everton’s visit to Vicarage Road won’t be for the faint hearted.

Javi Gracia

It perhaps says a lot how little it’s possible to say. That despite Javi Gracia having presided over three and a half months’ worth of games, the majority of which I was able to see, I’ve not got a clear picture in my head.  Not of his style, not of how “good” he is.  Certainly his approach seems more conservative than Silva’s, albeit that the switch from the enterprising back three with wing-backs to the more solid back four had first been implemented by Silva after the Huddersfield debacle in December.    Certainly he brought stability and a degree of conviction to a side which had precious little when he took over, and his achievement in that regard shouldn’t be taken for granted.  He also oversaw that magnificent win over Chelsea, giving credence to a reputation earned in Spain for upsetting more exalted opposition.

The cause for concern is of course that we only won three more games thereafter, and only one of them in the closing nine from mid-March onwards.  So…he’s more likeable than his predecessor, he says the right things, and he kept us up, something which didn’t look a given when he took over despite our good start.  But the jury’s still out.

Next Season:  A proper pre-season to implement his requirements – something which, as players have pointed out, no Watford manager has had since Gianfranco Zola in 2013 – and a running start rather than the firefighting after his appointment provide a more reasonable basis to assess Gracia.   That rumours of his departure this summer after only a few months didn’t turn out to be accurate doesn’t mean that his position will be secure if we don’t start well.

* * *

That’s it.  Thanks for bearing with this series and enjoy the World Cup…  if I can get my act together we’ll be back with the Season Preview in early August.


End of Term Report Part 6 07/06/2018

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

25- José Holebas

There’s an undeniable charm about José Holebas.   Yes he’s hot-headed, furiously competitive, prone to throw his toys out of the pram to the point where you occasionally fear for his health (let alone that of those facing him), but there’s a charm nonetheless. Sometimes it manages to conceal itself quite deep admittedly such as during his lowest point this season, a gutless contribution to the miserable home defeat to Huddersfield.  Despite this, and other occasional lapses, there’s no failing to warm to his furious desire to win.

Beneath all the bluster he’s also been a very decent full back for us in a position which is as difficult to fill in the top flight as it was a division below when we signed Paul Mayo to replace Robbo fifteen years ago;  witness Ashley Young, Fabien Delph and James Milner all being shoe-horned, admittedly with some success, into this slot for the biggest clubs over the last year or two.  Not flawless, liable to occasionally be caught behind, but an experienced tick against an awkward box who has, for the most part, done us proud.  And only the nine bookings in 2018/19 too…

Next Season: That José is still here three years on would have been considered an unlikely outcome at several points during, and indeed prior to his Watford career.  However he turns 34 this month, and it seems inconceivable that some succession planning won’t be taking place.  Whether José will take kindly to being usurped I rather doubt…

27- Christian Kabasele

One of the quiet success stories of our year, Christian finished the campaign in the most solid looking central partnership we’d seen all season alongside the rejuvenated Craig Cathcart.  In actual fact, however, Christian had been a force for good throughout most of the campaign, quickly establishing himself as an automatic pick on the left side of the defence for the most part in the absence of the injured Britos – until Christian himself took his turn to sit out three months with a hamstring injury earlier this year.

It appears that this injury might have cost him a place in Belgium’s World Cup squad, a squad from which he was cut at the last… albeit that this is an area in which the Belgians appear well stocked.  For the Hornets he’s looked composed, confident, agile and strong, every inch a top defender… his worst fault, perhaps, that he occasionally loses himself as if distracted by an interesting passing beetle (to quote the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s advice on learning to fly).  This was most dramatically showcased at Wembley, when his brain freeze contributed to Karnezis’ aggravating error.  Increasingly the exception however, Kabasele one of the less celebrated jewels in our crown.

Next Season:  A solid defender and a likeable man, you’d hope that Kabasele is one of the bedrocks that the side will be built around.

28- André Carrillo

A player whose signing was clearly chased quite hard before his loan was secured in late August, he managed to the pull off the trick of looking like a talented, capable player without ever quite working out or convincing you that he would be worth the £20m-odd that was being touted for a permanent deal.  There was a lot to like…  an endearing directness about his play, a tendency to be the player that tried to drag some quality out of our less convincing performances.  However there were also too many games that passed him by, that he took part in without really influencing.

He was very much Marco Silva’s man, and equally transparently not Javi Gracia’s man.  Or rather… for whatever reason he was all but discarded.  Gracia only started him once in the Premier League, at home to West Brom.  Gerard Deulofeu had been injured the week before, but the returning Will Hughes replaced Carrillo from the bench and the Peruvian never got another look in.

In the fall-out of Silva’s dalliances with Everton it was widely rumoured that there were players in the squad angling to follow their manager to Goodison Park.   Whilst names weren’t named, it’s difficult not to associate Carrillo with this rumour, particularly given his standing in the squad after Silva left.

Next Season:  All but inconceivable that Carrillo will be returning to the Vic.  Inevitably rumours are linking him again with his ex-boss.  It is to be hoped that he’s the only member of Silva’s Watford squad that follows him to Merseyside.

29- Étienne Capoue

There are few starker indicators of How Much Stuff Has Changed than the fact that at various times over the last year or so you wouldn’t have had Étienne Capoue in your first choice Watford side.  Perhaps you still wouldn’t.  A far cry from as few as three years ago when Capoue was the marquee record signing of our first summer back in the top flight.

Nowhere in the side are our current riches more extravagantly laid out than in midfield, admittedly.  Nonetheless, it’s remarkable both that Étienne Capoue only started five of 24 league games under Marco Silva, or that this isn’t particularly remarkable.  What was more remarkable was Capoue’s response to being thrown back into the side under Javi Gracia as our midfield options gradually dissipated.  His prolific run at the start of last season had suggested that an advanced midfield role was Étienne’s best position but here he was back in one of the nominally “holding” roles alongside Abdoulaye Doucouré, and produced arguably his most consistent run of form since joining the Hornets.

The ability has always been there.  And… it’s not that he’s suddenly flawless, Dad’s ongoing objection to his tendency to dangle a foot half-heartedly in the direction of a tackle isn’t based on expectation alone.  Nonetheless, a stunning end to the season from the Frenchman, including my favourite moment of the season when his defiance of Chelsea’s equaliser at Vicarage Road, surging forward in denial of the way the match appeared to be turning changed the tone of the game again.

Next Season:  A very real and versatile option in a competitive area of the pitch.  All good.

End of Term Report Part 5 04/06/2018

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

18- Andre Gray

Football players don’t have to be likeable.  Bastards, for example, have a role.  Ask Real Madrid, ask Sergio Ramos.  A cartoon character, a leader, a bastard.  He’s captained his side to the Champions’ League three times, he’s a knobhead, he doesn’t care and nor do Madrid because he’s their knobhead.  Marlon King.  Also, patently, not a very nice man… characteristics cast into light more sharply after he left Watford but even at the time you knew.  We all knew.  But whilst he was scoring goals, the roaring, snarling spearhead of the side it didn’t matter (up to a point).

If you’re struggling a bit, coming across as an idiot loses its charm somewhat, such as it is.  In Gray’s case, cupping your hand to your ear in response to perceived injustices having ended a run without a goal…. well.  Once, ill-judged, generously.  Twice, just crass.  He must have received some stick I guess to have reacted that way at all but it was really very tame indeed in the context of a record signing who was making a habit of bottling one-on-ones.  In the job he’s in he really has to be a bit thicker-skinned than that.  Not a reaction that left you rooting for the guy.

Nonetheless, he’s a better player than his modest goal return might suggest and we’ve looked a better side with him in it.  In particular it’s to be hoped that Javi can be persuaded to roll out the two-up-front recklessness of the final home game of the season against Newcastle;  both Troy and Andre looked all the better for it.

Next Season:  Rumours persist of another move with suggestions in the second half of the campaign that he’d been offered to Cardiff.  The Pozzos aren’t known to dawdle over their decisions, but it would still just about be surprising to see him go.

19- Will Hughes

Another tremendous signing from a summer of 2017 in which the incoming hit-rate was remarkably high.  Hughes took a while to force a look in and when he got it, having scored against West Ham and Newcastle in his second and third Premier League starts he did his hamstring against Manchester United three days later and aggravatingly sat out the next three months.

But when he returned, and virtually throughout his time on the pitch, he’s been an absolute joy. A whirlwind of mischief and energy and guile and a little bit of devilment, in this and his tendency to run himself to a verge-of-fainting standstill on about 75 minutes he’s an echo of another former Derby County youth who signed 20 years ago this summer.  Quite how this impossible treasure trove of midfielders fits together if and when everyone is fit is anyone’s guess but that’s a problem to worry about if and when it ever comes.  Will is a force for good wherever he’s accommodated.

Next Season:  A popular theory when Will joined a year ago was that he might be better suited to the Premier League than the more brutal intensity of the second tier.  He’s certainly not looked out of place, and if he can finally have a season free of the injuries that delayed his ascent to the highest tier, full international recognition is far from out of the question.

21- Kiko Femenía

A season of two halves for Kiko.  A relatively low key signing last summer he became one of the key components of the side that flourished under Marco Silva early in the season, revelling in the wing back role that showcased his stamina and acceleration.  The sight of Kiko roaring unnoted and untracked into space on the overlap was one of the defining images of that successful spell.

Whilst a number of other things were going wrong in early December, Kiko’s hamstring popping saw him sit out two months.  He returned to a new head coach and a back four that didn’t suit him nearly as well.  His outings under Javi Gracia were as a winger ahead of Daryl Janmaat at right back, and whilst the team struggled – we only earned a point from the six games he started on his return – Femenía in particular had little impact, only twice completing 90 minutes.

Next Season:  Like the rest of the squad, Kiko needs an injury-free run and a decent pre-season.  Thereafter we’ll maybe find out whether he’s versatile enough to be something other than a terrific wing back.

22- Marvin Zeegelaar

Zeegelaar signed on deadline day, quite transparently a last-minute means of filling a vacancy which had had someone else’s name on it.  His debut had to wait until West Ham’s visit in November, within seconds of which Andy Carroll’s elbow provided an uncompromising introduction to the English game.

Popular wisdom seems to be that Zeegelaar has been a low-cost failure, emergency cover at left back who isn’t quite up to it.  Certainly there were games – particularly at Vicarage Road – where Marvin was exposed, but his form was patchy rather than inadequate, his preference for going forward rather than backward common with most of our full backs.  His rampage up the left flank at St James Park was a major factor in the victory, and he played a full part in the stonking win over Chelsea from a wing back role.  Five days later however his slip at the London Stadium gave a mundane West Ham side an opening.  Marvin was replaced twenty minutes later and didn’t play for the side again, not managing as much as a place on the bench after the West Brom win in early March.

Next Season:  The much travelled Zeegelaar has, at the age of 27, played in the Netherlands, Spain, Portugal, Turkey and the UK.  It seems likely that he’ll be finding another home before the end of the summer.  Jose Holebas turns 34 this month and we need a succession plan at the very least.  Marvin was passable cover, but isn’t a long term heir.