Is Watford’s recruitment policy hindering progress?

In the midst of yesterday’s deadline-day depression I got a little frustrated.

Watford sent summer-signings Iriney Santos and Diego Fabbrini back overseas – to RCD Mallorca and AC Siena respectively – on loans until the end of the season and, earlier in the window, the Hornets shipped Javier Acuna to Osasuna.

The reason I got frustrated was simply this: if the players signed from abroad are going to ‘come good’ in England, they need to play in England. All three did not have enough time on the pitch and Acuna, in particular, was never really given a chance.

I’m not completely against loaning these players out, but by loaning them to foreign clubs it signifies to me that the management have ‘given up’ on them. In fact, I’d say that it’s unlikely that we’ll see them play another game at Vicarage Road. This made me question the motives behind signing these players in the first place, and that led to the tweet you’ll see below.

As the transfer window slammed shut at 11 o’clock last night it became apparent that Watford had signed Arsenal’s South Korean international forward Park Chu-Young; a somewhat underwhelming addition with more than a hint of ‘panic buy’ (yes, I know he’s on loan) about it.

And that made me question whether the Hornets’ technical director Gianluca Nani – the man in charge player recruitment – actually knows what he’s doing.

I know, thanks to Paolo Tomaselli’s excellent chapter in volume two of Tales From the Vicarage, that Nani is not solely in charge of bringing in players, but I even started to wonder whether Watford’s recruitment was partly to blame for Gianfranco Zola’s resignation in December.

Now, I am fully aware that the Hornets’ connection with Udinese allows them to take advantage of a ‘world-class’ scouting network whilst also reducing the club’s costs, but is the man who signed Roberto Baggio and Pep Guardiola for Brescia – or the Pozzo model in general – really capable of building a squad that will see us ascend to the Premier League?

Nani was central in all of West Ham’s transfer dealings during his time at the Premier League club, responsible for club a record spend of £9 million on Savio and the arrivals of Diego Tristan and David Di Michele. Admittedly, all clubs have had their share of signings that, for whatever reason, do not work out but when you consider that Zola’s predecessor at West Ham – Alan Curbishley – openly criticised Nani for signing players without his ‘input or permission’, the warning light starts to flash.

At the beginning of his 18-month tenure, Zola was asked by the Watford Observer whether he would have autonomy over transfers at Watford.

“First of all there is no separation between me and Gianluca [Nani]. He will look for the players that can fit my system. If I need a player for my system and I can have a better one than I was thinking of, then it is even better,” said the Italian.

“The expertise of Gianluca and the [Pozzo] family’s scouting system will help me because if I have a position which needs filling, then they can provide me with four or five choices rather than maybe my one or two suggestions. That should be the benefit of having a system like this behind you.”

So, did Nani fail Zola in the summer by failing to adequately replace Matej Vydra, Nathaniel Chalobah and the injured Almen Abdi? Or can the Hornets’ season-long slump mainly be attributed to on-pitch issues?

Examining the Italian’s signings during the 2012-13 campaign, Vydra, Abdi and Ikechi Anya have had perhaps the biggest impact, while Fernando Forestieri, Cristian Battocchio, Daniel Pudil and Joel Ekstrand have all proved capable Championship players – I’d say that’s a successful haul.

But on the other hand, there’s an ever-growing list of players that have been brought to Vicarage Road and left again without so much as a whimper.

Jean-Alain Fanchone, Geoffrey Mujangi-Bia, Steve Leo Beleck, Neuton and Alex Geijo (remember them?) had 15 starts between them before leaving for pastures new and the current campaign has seen a number of new arrivals fail to make the grade in a Hornets’ shirt.

The Pozzos’ scouting network and recruitment policy has been crucial in helping Udinese reach the Champions League qualifying round in the last two years, and it also helped Granada retain a place in La Liga following promotion.

And while Nani has brought international-calibre players to Vicarage Road, I can’t help but liken his approach to that of someone panning for gold: eventually the good stuff will shine through, but you’ve got to discard a lot of shit to get to that point.

New arrivals Alexander Merkel, Daniel Tozser, Mathias Ranegie look good on paper, but so did Iriney, Fabbrini and Acuna.

To be honest, I’m more frustrated that the latter three were unloaded before being given time to get properly acquainted with English football, but as the season begins to look more and more like a write-off, will January’s additions be the catalysts needed to turn the Hornets’ season around?

I think that it’s safe to assume that if Park Chu-Young was on a shortlist of ‘four or five choices’ he would have been at the back of current Watford boss Giuseppe Sannino’s mind.

And I’m not saying that out of disrespect to the South Korean forward; a number of attackers were linked to the Hornets throughout January, but – perhaps not due to a lack of trying – it appears Nani made a late dash over the fence at London Colney to ask Arsene Wenger whether he had anyone available.

Clearly options are fairly limited, and while we’re not the type of club that can dish out astronomical wages or go out and pay millions for a player (unless, of course, he fits the ‘project’), from the outside it looks as though Nani ran out of options during the transfer window.

I’m interested to know what fellow Watford supporters think at this point.

I trust the Pozzos and their long-term vision, but is Nani hindering the club’s progress by failing to adequately replace players like Vydra and Chalobah? Or can the Hornets’ season-long slump mainly be attributed to the head-coaching role? I’m sure both have played a part in a miserable season, yet I can’t help but feel that the (seemingly) scattergun approach is an issue we could do without. Let me know what you think via the Forza Watford! Twitter account, my personal Twitter account, or the comments section below.

Edit: Thanks to a conversation with Tales From the Vicarage author Lionel Birnie on Twitter, I’ve learnt a little more about Watford’s recruitment policy and its decision-makers. You can view an extract from the book here.

Leave a comment.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *