Pozzos’ track record demands trust in their transfer policy

In the end, time will tell.

Time will tell whether moving on from several promotion-winning heroes was the way to go. Whether Gabriele Angella’s refusal to talk of the club he so passionately served is a warning sign. Whether Matej Vydra’s forlorn wave to the adoring travelling contingent at the Etihad was more than just a sign of appreciation. Whether a side-story exists to there being no official farewell to Daniel Tozser. Whether Fernando Forestieri’s tears were for a club who have gone one step too far in their ruthless pursuit of glory.

Time will tell whether the country’s fifth-highest net-spenders have discovered ground that no promoted team dare venture before. Whether the relentless search for new foreign gems was the fated route for a club which has hardly done it the conventional way. Whether brutality and heart-break is a soon-to-be-forgotten by-product of a regime which has the success of Watford Football Club at the heart of its every move.

The reconstruction of a squad which held a truly loving connection with its fan base, was always going to be hard to take. For many, to see Vydra and Troy Deeney attack Premier League defenders with the vigour they have shown in two of the last three years was the prize. To witness Almen Abdi sweeping forward on the counter-attack, Ikechi Anya galloping at twice the speed outside him, in the top tier was what we celebrated in Brighton back in April.

But ultimately, a change in division and a change in coaching staff bring yet more change.

Watford’s owners, the Pozzo family, haven’t got it wrong very often; Udinese qualified for Europe, Granada ended up in La Liga and little old Watford are in the Premier League.

Three years ago, a similar demolition of the playing squad produced famous consequences. Over three years, really not long for a club drowning in the Championship to turn up in the Premier League, they found the promotion-winning formula.

And we’d do well to remember the events of that summer.

Similar accusations of ripping the soul out of the squad, of ruining ‘everything’ good to do with the club, were thrown around. They hadn’t.

And it really is unlikely that the Pozzos have done so this time, either. Who’d have believed that Fernando Forestieri leaving Watford would bring a tear to your eye, when he became the 16th summer signing on 31st August 2012? Players move on and there’s every chance Victor Ibarbo will be our new hero by November.

Ultimately the owners are good at what they do. They targeted promotion within three years. Done it. Forgotten it. Moved on. What needs to be done to survive amongst the vultures?

A change in head coach, a change in playing style and, therefore, a change in feel… we were, after all, warned not to get too attached to players.

Who knows? If it all capitulates then perhaps we can turn around a point a finger. There’s no justification in doing so just yet, though. Time will tell.

And let’s remember, we wanted to be in this league. This is the reward. And we’ve been led there by an Italian family who, by and large, have known exactly what they are doing.

Nothing’s really gone wrong yet… surely they’ve earned our trust again?

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Vydra’s three-year journey is the perfect embodiment of Pozzos’ ownership

In many ways, Matej Vydra’s last three years are the perfect embodiment of Watford’s term under Pozzo ownership: Excitement and disappointment, passion and apathy, promise and frustration. But ultimately, a happy ending.

If indeed this can be called an ending. Vydra penned his first permanent contract with the club this week, bringing to a close a run of three seasons in which he didn’t really know what was what from year to year.

And indeed the Czech forward confirmed that it wasn’t until promotion was secured that he knew he’d be a Hornet come August 2015.

But as a period of uncertainty comes to an end, a settled Vydra gets ready for his second crack at the Premier League.

He’s been there before of course. To call his spell at West Brom ‘ill-fated’ may be doing him a disservice, but it’s clear that Vydra failed to reproduce the performances with the Baggies which so nearly drove Watford into the Premier League in 2013.

Even during that Zolacoaster of a campaign, inconsistency blighted him. A blistering Christmas saw him net 10 goals in five league games, a spell which effectively won him Championship PFA Player of the Year alone, before a Spring drought led to raised eyebrows when his name repeatedly appeared on the team-sheet.

And after Steve Clarke took the gamble on him, circumstances at The Hawthorns hardly helped iron out Vydra’s biggest shortcoming.

In and out of the side, often used inappropriately as a lone striker, and suffering at the hands of the Midlander’s Head Coach turnover, he couldn’t work any of the same momentum into his game.
Three league goals in seven starts wasn’t bad yet hardly the season Vydra and his *ahem* ‘talkative’ agent had dreamt of.

But now there’s every reason to believe that he’s ready to put right those wrongs.

After a season in which, largely down to the bullish man-management skills of Slavisa Jokanovic, Vydra’s attributes as a team player have excelled, he looks perfectly set to grace the top flight.

His pace, skill and unnerving prowess in front of goal were never in doubt, but the all-round package blossomed as Jokanovic’s Hornets powered into the automatic promotion places.

The dash back into his own half to defend deep into injury time at Brighton, when Fernando Forestieri had given the ball away in a presentable position, was indicative of the way he’s progressed.

We’ve a player who, while understated, enjoys his teammates’ success, relishes playing hero and has added a maturity to his game which was previously missing.

A player who adapts to what is required of him, who had the mental strength and ability to both break into the team and take his chance after Odion Igahlo’s astonishing early 2015 run.

And as a forward who you’d hope would just get better as his service improves, some of the talent being linked with a switch to Vicarage Road, in combination with his telepathic pals Almen Abdi and Troy Deeney, means there’s every reason to believe that Vydra will slot in nicely at the highest level.

His five-year deal, alongside long-term contracts for several of his teammates, should signify the beginning of a period of stability at the club with the core of the promotion winning side committing their futures to Watford.

2015/16 is begging to be Matej Vydra’s year.

Taking a look at the Hornets’ turnaround under Slavisa Jokanovic

It’s 10 January 2015. You’re in West Yorkshire and find yourself cold, agitated and furious. You’ve blown a week’s wages on a fruitless trip to Huddersfield to watch a 3-1 defeat that sums up why Watford just can’t get promoted; the Hornets’ fourth head coach of the season is surely set to make way for a fifth.

Now fast-forward three months.

Jokanovic has survived. Six of those responsible at Huddersfield take to the field against Middlesbrough, but this time the sun’s out and yellow flags are aloft. Maybe, just maybe, ‘our time is now’.

The Serbian celebrates Odion Ighalo’s piercing second with gusto; he’s that close to making history by becoming the third man to guide Watford to the top flight.

For a short while, it looked as though Jokanovic was going to go the same way as others had before him. A failure to extract any sort of consistency out of a squad that was infuriatingly underachieving, looked set to be his downfall.

Four straight November defeats looked as though it may see him off, before that thumping win in front of the cameras at Fulham. A horrible performance at Huddersfield may easily have then been the last straw.

But that miserable January afternoon turned out to be the turning point of his tenure; the penny appeared to drop for a squad which had failed to give enough on the pitch. When, perhaps, many of that side came to realise that ‘sexy football’ never has, and never will, give anyone a right to win.

Jokanovic said as much afterwards: “We were walking and we did not fight and we made too many mistakes. Quite simply, they worked harder than we did”. Damning.

No-one could accuse Easter Monday’s side of the same. In fact, bar a first half against Blackpool where the same complacency was evident, this Watford side has bust a gut for promotion ever since.

The reaction to Jokanovic’s rant was evident. Both in the media and, crucially, on the pitch there was a recognition that the performance at Huddersfield, which mirrored too many others in the first half of the season, was unacceptable. A seminal moment.

With the crucial appointment of Dean Austin, who appears popular amongst the players and the communicator that Jokanovic’s broken English perhaps needed, the entire staff has been galvanised.

With Austin, alongside Ruben Martinez, able to convey Jokanovic’s message, Watford’s head coach comes across as more the ‘overseer’. The brains behind this vast operation, if you will.

The former Chelsea midfielder’s tactical acumen – displayed in the early weeks of his Vicarage Road career – has been increasingly evident in 2015.

The half-time introduction of Ben Watson, another crucial January cog, was the catalyst for the aforementioned seven-goal Tangerine rout. Perhaps the Serbian gained confidence from there, as he has surprised and delighted us with an increasing array of bold team selections and substitutions in recent months.

For the first time under Pozzo ownership, we have a team that play with character and inspires total belief and trust from its fan-base – while also entertaining.

It’s not just a cliché or any half-baked notion to suggest that wins over Blackpool, Brentford, Bolton and Leeds wouldn’t have happened under previous regimes. It’s true. All too often this immensely talented set of players has folded when well and truly under the cosh. Jokanovic, with his John Smith’s Stadium realisations, has put a stop to it – simple as that – and he deserves credit for doing so.

Yeah, but can you do it on a cold Tuesday night in Wigan? Well, yes, we can actually.

Those cold eyes and an emotionless persona have allowed him to make numerous brave decisions, which other bosses, who are a little less detached, may have feared. Would Gianfranco Zola have dropped Troy Deeney after just one poor performance, as Jokanovic did at Bolton in February? Probably not.

Talking of Bolton, has there been a more enthralling, heart-stopping and ultimately rewarding game of football to watch in the Football League this season?

Our boss jumping up and down like a maniac at Troy’s winner was something else – a peep-hole into his oft strictly-guarded explosion of internal emotion.

What would you give for similar scenes on 2 May? Plenty.

Are Watford fans wrong to demand British signings?

Preconceptions are all too common amongst football fans. While Wayne Rooney is arguably going close to fulfilling his prophecy as ‘The Next Gazza’, Darius Vassell still has some work to do to match Michael Owen’s England goal tally.

Amongst Watford circles, Javier Acuna apparently only failed to rip the Championship apart last season because he had signed from Spain and had therefore been ‘Alex Geijo Mk II’ while the signing of Gianni Munari was lambasted by those who ‘just knew’ he wouldn’t be anywhere near as good as Cristian Battocchio.

Even now, the alleged capture of Jay Spearing has caused many to worry that he might ‘do an Andrews’, when he replaces Keith as our midfield barker, purely because he has signed from Bolton and plays in a similar position.

The point is that players tend to get thrown in together on the basis of assertions that are generally arbitrary.

So when it was, validly, decided amongst us fans last summer that we badly needed some Championship-hardened pros added to our squad, we could hardly believe our luck when we were presented with two men, one of whom had just finished playing his role in a side that had won the Championship, and another who had tasted the Premier League.

Lloyd Dyer, a player who had had the beating of us on numerous occasions. He had terrorised Lloyd Doyley just months earlier at Vicarage Road as his Leicester side ran rings around our half-baked efforts, and had arrived to blitz us into Premier League.

Keith Andrews – ‘The Next John Eustace’ – was perhaps even more what we craved. A strong player who would unite things behind the scenes, a leader on the pitch, ‘the final piece of the jigsaw’.

The anticipation was the closest we got to excitement about these Watford careers.

Perhaps that is harsh on Andrews, who it is easy to feel some sympathy for. When he played, he did possess those characteristics which we expected from him. He appeared to be a leader and his influence behind the scenes was evident as managerial chaos overshadowed our decent start to the season.

The Irishman has since spoken of his frustration at how things ended with us, having put so much effort into keeping the dressing room intact. The short-term signing of Adlene Guedioura, who took Andrews’ place in the squad as the fifth loan player, will have understandably frustrated him.

Yet the incident which saw him effectively leave the club, as Slavisa Jokanovic placed him on “gardening leave”, was clearly an unsavoury one. Andrews had only been left out of one game – at home to Cardiff – between his last start and his departing. Do we really need someone who is going to blow up like that at being omitted from one match-day squad?

His comments on Sky Sports before the 5-0 win at Fulham were the final straw. His relationship with Jokanovic had clearly broken down and he certainly let us know of it, in the most public fashion. Perhaps he wasn’t the personality that was required after all.

And that evening may be the best place to start with Dyer. On the full-time whistle, he appeared to have some cross words with Jokanovic after the most convincing of 5-0 thumpings. Surely he couldn’t be questioning the decision not to give him a game after such a result…could he?

Even if that night’s events are conjecture, Dyer’s rant at Beppe Sannino upon scoring the opener at Rotherham back in August did not leave much to the imagination. We had been told of the winger’s explosive pace, not of his explosive mouth, and he lost plenty of respect from Watford fans that night.

His career at Vicarage Road has, in hindsight, been in tatters since, although a succession of anonymous displays, in which he has shown very little of what we saw from him in Leicester blue have hardly helped build the bridges.

The pair have undoubtedly not been helped by the quick turnover in management – neither have probably known where they are standing all season. Who knows what promises they were given about game time, formations (Dyer’s inability to play at wing-back does beg the question of where he was told he might fit into the 3-5-2 system) and tactics.

The club is run in a unique way, one in which neither Dyer nor Andrews are accustomed. The system appears to have gobbled up Lewis McGugan too – the trio are likely never to don the Watford yellow again.

Slavisa Jokanovic gave a damning assessment of the trio, plus Matthias Ranegie, though, effectively stating that he had banished them from training because they had a poisonous effect on the squad. It is hard to argue that they have failed to deliver what we hoped.

And that brings us back to our preconceptions.

We were wrong to assume Keith Andrews would be ‘The Next Eustace’ – he wasn’t – and wrong to assume Dyer would be a superstar merely because he was British.

The technical abilities and personalities of players are not defined by their previous club or their nationalities. Maybe next time someone calls for a British manager who ‘knows how to get teams out of the division’, they might stop to remember this pair and that being a Brit is not necessarily the Holy Grail.

The ‘British Bulldog’ attributes are perfectly accessible in foreign players, just as there are numerous examples of the soft Brit who possess what you would expect of a foreign star.

Here’s hoping that the balance of the Watford squad will be restored this month with the type of player we need, wherever he comes from.

Now, I’m off to look up Vujadin Savic. I’ve heard he’s ‘The Next Essaid Belkalem’…

Sannino’s success demands more support from Hornets

There are clearly issues at Vicarage Road right now – issues that caused Lloyd Dyer to celebrate his goal at Rotherham on Tuesday in furious fashion and subsequently find himself dropped from the following match-day squad, issues that caused Lewis McGugan to be left out of two consecutive squads and issues that have forced journalists close to the club to confirm that others of Dyer and McGugan’s team-mates are discontented and that Beppe Sannino’s future is ‘up in the air’.

These are issues, however, in which very few of your ‘typical’ supporter can claim knowledge of.

Indeed had Dyer not celebrated in such fashion on Tuesday night then it is unlikely that any fan would have been any the wiser.

At around 2:15 yesterday afternoon, when Dyer and McGugan’s exclusions were confirmed, Twitter and fans’ forums were alight with criticism for the Hornets’ Italian head coach who had apparently ‘clearly lost the dressing room’. These claims, while appearing to have some substance to them, are also shrouded in plenty of guesswork.

These behind-the-scenes problems almost certainly stem back to the end of last season when an argument between management and players resulted in a pitiful 1-4 reverse at home to Huddersfield Town. 

It would follow, therefore, that they have been present while Watford performed impressively throughout pre-season, while they have, almost certainly down to the work of Sannino, become infinitely more formidable defensively. The squad has become fitter, stronger and most importantly, they have won four of their first five games of the 2014-15 season.

While I do understand that players play with professional pride and want to win the game for themselves, I question whether all of these positives would have been possible if the training ground conditions were that horrendous, that unbearable.

But I don’t really want to dwell on behind-the-scenes activity, as the point of this article is that no-one really knows what’s happening there. To put it simply, until more detail is available, how can it be used as ammunition to fuel a ‘Sannino Out’ campaign?

Unfortunately for Sannino, by virtue of being unheard off in this country when he took over, he developed a band of supporters that were on his back immediately, not prepared to give him anywhere near the breathing space and time that they would have afforded someone they’d heard of. Some had their minds made up from day one.

It is totally unfair to point to the capitulation at Nottingham Forest, to the away form and to the dreadful last three games of last season while ignoring the tactical master-class at Manchester City and the striking fact that Sannino’s team had broken a club record by winning six home games in a row without conceding, inside three months of his arrival. 

It was clearly not all rosy, but Sannino had arrested the trajectory in which the team were sliding down – surely his remit when he took over.

Mission ‘Promotion’ has got off to an encouraging start.

Watford have swept away two mediocre sides at Vicarage Road while the primitive signs are that we have developed a ‘method’ of winning away from home – evidenced at both Stevenage and Rotherham.

For people to be calling for Sannino to be dismissed due to a squad selection is horribly unjust – I’d wager that those same folk were less sure three hours on.

But if, or as it seems inevitable, when, Sannino loses his job I trust that the Pozzos will have got it right. Their knowledge of football has proven itself to be strong and they will make sure that they have made themselves fully aware of all factors before they make the decision.

If Sannino goes, it will be because it’s been considered that our chances of promotion are harmed by sticking with him.

We as fans are not privy to those factors. How do we know that McGugan, Dyer and whoever else is not in the wrong? 14 players featured yesterday and seemingly carried out the manager’s instruction effectively. Two key first-team players were considered unable to do so and were therefore left out.

On the flip side, Sannino may really be that bad to deal with. Does his animation on the side-lines during 90 minutes on a Saturday perhaps turns into something rather more aggressive and nasty on a Monday morning?

Whatever the truth of the situation, the bare facts, the facts that are available to all of us, point to Sannino deserving of more support. He did the job required of him last season, and has begun this term in a similar vein.

He won’t lose his job because of on-the-pitch results – I doubt anyone claiming to have ‘not rated him from the start’ expected him to potentially lose his job in these circumstances. He will hardly have left us in the worst position moving forward, in terms of league position.

In conclusion, I feel that Sannino deserves all of our support until the true situation is made clear; the best thing for everyone is if that situation, whether manager or players at fault, is resolved quickly.