Watford are well-placed to survive their first season back in the Premier League after a nine-year absence, and that’s primarily down to the club’s ambitious owners, the Pozzo family, writes Jamie Leah.
Ultimately, the Hornets’ two previous top flight campaigns resulted in the same outcome: a bottom-placed finish and relegation back to the Championship.
In 1999-2000 they concluded seven points behind 19th place and 12 points from safety under the direction of Graham Taylor, who had inspired their rise to the First Division in the 1980s.
Despite early wins at Liverpool and at home to Chelsea, the Vicarage Road outfit, who had earned an unlikely promotion via the play-offs, never really looked as though they would maintain their Premier League status.
Aidy Boothroyd guided Watford into the top flight, once again via the play-offs, for the 2006-07 campaign but they quickly found themselves cast adrift once more; Boothroyd’s men finished six points behind 19th place and 10 points from safety, with only five wins to show for themselves.
Watford’s promotion ahead of the 2015-16 season, this time thanks to a second-placed finish, has presented the Pozzo family with an opportunity which they clearly intend to make the most of; the Premier League’s financial health is such that even its lower-ranking clubs can attract sums that the likes of the Italian owners’ other ventures, Udinese and Granada, can only dream of.
A productive pre-season has seen the Pozzos do everything they can to ensure that Quique Sanchez Flores’ side will still be in the top flight come 2016-17 and so far, they’ve given us every reason to think that they will succeed.
A lot has been written about the Pozzos’ track-record of developing young, talented players before selling them on to make multi-million pound profits, but the majority of the Hornets’ summer signings don’t really fit with that model.
The additions of Giedrius Arlauskis (27), Valon Behrami (30), Miguel Britos (30), Etienne Capoue (27), Jose Holebas (31), Jurado (29), Allan Nyom (27) and Sebastian Prodl (28) all add quality to a side that is clearly opting for experience over re-sale value at this stage.
And with good reason: the Premier League TV money alone is worth far more to Watford than the players’ resale value in this instance, so it’s clear that the Pozzos’ approach to the transfer market this summer has been a coherent one.
They’re quality signings too: each of the Hornets’ acquisitions, including Steven Berghuis (23), who I’ve not yet mentioned, has played in European competition and just one – Britos – is yet to represent his country at any level.
Most of them – with the exceptions of Behrami and Capoue – will be playing Premier League football for the first time so, in terms of adaptability, there does appear to be an element of risk.
However, when you consider the fact that the quality of players being targeted by the club is such that Watford are now competing with the likes of Inter Milan, Paris Saint-Germain, PSV Eindhoven and Valencia for players’ signatures, it should give fans confidence that the Pozzos’ scouting network will enable the club to avoid relegation.
Many fans, particularly those of other clubs, will point to the Hornets’ lack of home-grown additions, but the Pozzos are naturally reluctant to mortgage their side’s future by paying the overinflated prices currently being demanded for English players.
Bournemouth recently gambled £8 million on unproven full-back Tyrone Mings, who undoubtedly has potential but has made just 56 appearances to date, whereas Watford opted to bring in Jose Holebas, who kept Ashley Cole out of Roma’s starting line-up last season, for an initial £1.8 million. In my opinion, that represents much better value for money.
The club has certainly made more of an impression with its signings this summer than Dominic Foley, Des Lyttle and Mark Williams (who were brought in for the Hornets’ maiden Premier League season in 1999-2000) and, what’s more, the £3.25 million paid for Nathan Ellington in 2007 no longer represents the club’s record transfer outlay; happy days indeed.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s departure has almost been forgotten amidst the flurry of transfer activity at Vicarage Road, but I believe the Pozzos’ decision to replace him with the Quique Sanchez Flores also puts the Hornets in a better position ahead of the upcoming campaign.
Now don’t get me wrong, Jokanovic did an outstanding job last season, guiding Watford to the Premier League with a great deal of pressure on him, but Flores’ CV would have been much more attractive to players who would take some convincing to move to a club that is yet to establish itself in the top flight. I believe the owners knew that too.
Jurado, for instance, who featured in Flores’ Europa League-winning Atletico Madrid side, would have been unlikely to put pen to paper had it not been for the presence of his former coach.
And judging by reports that came out of the team’s recent training camp in Germany, Flores has had a positive impact on the rest of the squad as well.
Ultimately, we’ll never know whether the decision to replace Jokanovic was the correct one, although avoiding relegation this season would negate the need to even ask the question in the future. The early signs are that the appointment of Flores could be a favourable one.
As well as bringing in fresh faces, the Pozzos have worked hard to keep hold of last season’s top performers.
New long-term contracts were handed out to Almen Abdi, Gabriele Angella, Craig Cathcart and Troy Deeney, while Matej Vydra finally made his move from Udinese permanent.
The lack of uncertainty regarding key players’ futures will undoubtedly help the squad maintain its focus going into the 2015-16 campaign, and this can only be a good thing.
The owners have also invested into the stadium and general match-day experience, which will both maximise revenue and help to keep the more ‘casual’ fans coming through the turnstiles for years to come.
There’s still plenty of work to be done, of course.
In the short-term, Flores must get a team featuring the Premier League’s highest number of new faces to gel, while learning new tactics. But thanks to the efforts of Watford’s owners, the Pozzo family, the club is in a great position to achieve something is has never done before: survive in the Premier League.
What do you think? Have the Hornets done everything they can to remain in the top flight come 2016-17? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.