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End of Term Report 2021 – Part 8 10/06/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Thoughts about things.

32- Marc Navarro

Yes, I know.  But he’s been here three seasons (two, if you skip the suitably inconspicuous year at Leganés) and has only made seven starts.  Three in the league. He’s not a kid any more, he’s nearly 26 but still looks a long way from challenging for a place in the team.

There’s something there.  You can see what the idea was, at least.  He has a good touch, he can cross a ball.  He’s nearly a decent player.  But he seems beset by an almost total lack of assertiveness or urgency and has rarely convinced defensively, even against relatively moderate Championship wingers.

Where Marc Navarro is perhaps most interesting is as a symptom of the “Pozzo model”.  A side effect.  Long contracts on young players moving internationally are a bit of a gamble and gambles aren’t always going to pay off.  Sometimes unproductive gambles are more conspicuous – in an Isaac Success kinda way.  Sometimes less so, as here.  It can happen for all sorts of reasons – unrealised potential, difficulty in settling in a new country, a poor fit.  But it will happen sometimes.

Next Season:  Marc has two years left on his contract.  It would be tremendous if those arcing crosses could be coupled with a bit of oomph, a bit of doggedness; if they are we might have a player.  As it is, it’s difficult to see someone who made limited impact in the Championship establishing himself in the Premier League.

44- Joseph Hungbo

Joseph Hungbo is tremendous fun.  Strong, quick, direct, brave.  What’s not to like?

Part of the slightly odd influx of Under-23s in the summer of 2019, Joseph has bucked the trend in simply still being at the club.  Prolific from the wing for the junior side, he made welcome, excitable incursions into the starting eleven from the turn of the year. The suspicion that he was simply filling one of the many spaces on the bench was quickly dispelled, the inconvenient detail that we’d signed him from Palace at the age of 19 overlooked in the enjoyment of a youngster “breaking through”.

As discussed it’s a crying shame that he pulled a hamstring twenty-four energetic minutes into the game at Brentford, scuppering what would surely have been an opportunity to rack up consecutive ninety minutes that will be harder to come by in the thinner fixture list of the Premier League.  Nonetheless.  Joseph Hungbo, who speaks with he eloquent confidence of a veteran, is a contender.

Next Season:  A loan, one suspects.  We’ll watch with interest.

Vladimir Ivić

It seemed like a bit of a coup.  Recruited on the back of success in Greece and Israel, the fact that we hadn’t heard of him wasn’t an impediment to our optimism in itself.  We know the drill after all, and I was perfectly prepared to accept that the people who’d appointed him knew a bit more about the new guy than I did and were better able to judge.

He was inscrutable, and his joyless demeanour would have been hugely enjoyable had the football itself been a little more fun.  It wasn’t, so it wasn’t.

But the annals shouldn’t judge him too harshly.  He inherited a hugely turbulent situation…  any relegated squad is going to be volatile to an extent, but the amount of perhaps overdue tooing and froing was considerable by any standards and, oh yes, we were in the throes of a global pandemic as Vlad moved across Europe. COVID had stymied the end of the previous season affording the new man the briefest of close seasons in which to get his new charges into shape.

So to be there or thereabouts for as long as we were shouldn’t be taken for granted.  We might have been painful to watch, but we were painful whilst picking up points, and if his refusal to switch to a 4-3-3 in the absence of a recognised left back was another manifestation of his caution, he did at least recognise that the need was there.

Which doesn’t alter the fact that the brave move to remove him was the right decision;  it would take a surge in form to get us promoted, a surge that was never going to happen under Vlad.  But perhaps we shouldn’t judge his football too harshly now that we don’t have to endure it.

Next Season:  Vlad’s almost total restraint in front of a camera probably contributed to his failure to get another gig before the end of the season.  Will be interesting to see how his next job goes when it comes.


All of which should underline the danger inherent in taking Xisco’s achievement for granted.

There’s a danger, I think, in looking at the situation, looking at his relative inexperience and youthful, almost boyish demeanour and concluding that all he really did was to cheer everyone the hell up.  That does him a grave disservice I think.  A “facilitator” can be a successful manager when presented with an exceptional group of players, sure.  A group of players demonstrably better than their competitors who are adept enough to manage their own game when given room to do so and free cakes at elevenses on Fridays.  Zinedine Zidane has had this charge levelled at him, and Real had a degree of success under his guidance I understand.

I don’t think we were in that position.  An outstanding squad by the standards of the division, sure.  But not so outstanding that our surge was any kind of inevitability, that our success from February onwards was some sort of natural order that Ivić had somehow been blocking or screwing up.  We know what the challenges were, or many of them.  Some of these were remedied independently of the head coach, but some of them needed more that a sympathetic ear.

After the QPR defeat Xisco put his hands up and admitted tactical errors.  Such an admission, however candid, would have garnered more sympathy if he had any kind of track record with us.  He didn’t. So to turn it around from there, now-legendary post-Coventry conflap or otherwise, betrays a resilience that isn’t immediately obvious from his cheerful demeanour.  Further, to question his tactical acumen overlooks the success with which he made light of the challenges that kept coming – suspensions and injuries that might have been disruptive became almost irrelevant.  João Pedro was fielded in midfield against Forest, implausibly successfully.  Philip Zinckernagel’s teething problems were accommodated and polished and tucked away in places where they didn’t compromise his ability to pick a pass…. whilst still doing the feelgood stuff too, witness the shrug that followed the combustible defeat at Bournemouth (snigger).  If we’re going to criticise – indeed, dismiss – Vlad for failing to get the required tune out of his charges it does seem less than even-handed not to praise Xisco for harmonising the piece, and indeed the entire club.

Next Season:  It’s possible that Xisco will prove not to be up to the new challenges in front of us.  That’s not where my money is.  Nor, more relevantly, the money of those with money at stake who after all weren’t shy about making a change at this stage six years ago when they evidently did harbour such doubts.  Vamos Xisco.

That’s your lot.  Thanks for reading this far.  We’ll be back soon enough for preview-y things and – heavens – perhaps even a match report from an actual football match in an actual football stadium.  Steady.  Enjoy the summer.



1. John - 10/06/2021

Many thanks Matt. As always, critical when required, sympathetic when needed and above all balanced and insightful. Enjoy your summer!

Matt Rowson - 10/06/2021

cheers John

Ray Knight - 10/06/2021

Many thanks Matt from me. Go re-charge your batteries ready for the next exciting instalment and enjoy the summer.

Matt Rowson - 10/06/2021

Thanks Ray

2. Edmund - 10/06/2021

Really enjoyed all the end of term reports, thanks Matt! Looking forward to seeing some of the golden boys in action at the euros.

Matt Rowson - 10/06/2021

thanks Edmund. Absolutely. If Ken starts I’m supporting Sweden. If he doesn’t feature I hope they get trampled into the dirt.

3. jtbodbo - 10/06/2021

Your observations on Vlad and particularly Xisco are very percipient. (Not just because they chime with my view!) I don’t think Vlad would have got us promoted automatically. I didn’t think Xisco would.
Anyway, thanks – for a magnificent review of an intriguing season.

Matt Rowson - 10/06/2021

Many thanks. Good use of “percipient”…

4. sptemple - 10/06/2021

Marc Navarro is that player in Football Manager who you sign because his technical stats are so high that you don’t see that he has no bravery, anticipation, determination or pace.

Matt Rowson - 10/06/2021

FM Watford stats are of course perfect…

5. Adam Segal - 10/06/2021

Excellent reading for an ex pat that can’t attend matches even under a non-pandemic season! BTW I recently turned 50 and my sister sent me ‘Watford FC On This Day” What a fun little read! Cheers Matt.

Matt Rowson - 10/06/2021

Thanks Adam. On this day…. what kept you ? 😉

6. Fez - 11/06/2021

As always, an absolute joy to read. Pretty much spot on so far as my own opinions are concerned – giving me cause to think again when I’ve suggested otherwise or “take it on the chin” when you’ve set me straight (usually my poor enunciation, articulation or just plain missing the point)… which I why you do “this” and I don’t!!
Have a great summer!

Matt Rowson - 11/06/2021

Thanks Fez

7. Sequel - 11/06/2021

Damn. No more BHappy for weeks and weeks, with only The Euros for distraction. Ah well, absence makes the heart grow fonder I suppose.
Many thanks Matt. Enjoy the rest.

Matt Rowson - 11/06/2021

Cheers Sequel. Rest….?

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