Who could be on their way out of Watford this summer?

At last the end has arrived, a time for most to sit back and reflect on the season just passed, however for Watford fans it’s a season that won’t live long in the memory.

The Hornets’ dismal campaign came to an end on Saturday with Giuseppe Sannino’s men being comprehensively beaten 4-1 by Huddersfield Town, condemning his under-performing side to a 13th place finish.

Thoughts turn to the upcoming transfer window and, if rumours are to be believed, it’s going to be another eventful one at Vicarage Road. Below I’ll look at some of the players who have been linked with moves away from Watford and offer my verdict on whether, ultimately, they will stay or go this summer.

Manuel Almunia

Almunia has had an indifferent season this year and a number of his performances have been nothing short of erratic.

The 2013-14 campaign could have been the Spaniard’s last at Vicarage Road.

At times the former Arsenal goalkeeper has pulled off some fantastic saves to keep Watford in games and other times (Millwall being a perfect example) he has a tendency to botch the most simple of saves.

Almunia isn’t getting any younger and it looked like a farewell to the Watford fans during the ‘lap of honour’ after the Hornets’ final game of the season, where he appeared to be waving goodbye to the fans and hugging his fellow team-mates.

Of course I might be reading too much into this, but I think he will leave in the summer and another similarly-experienced goalkeeper is required if the Hornets are going to challenge for promotion next season.

If he does hang up his boots, or move on to pastures new, Almunia will go down as a in Watford history for his heroics in last summer’s play-off semi final against Leicester City and for that, Manuel, I thank you.

Verdict: GONE

Joel Ekstrand

Ekstrand has struggled this season in comparison to last year; the Sweden international looks a shadow of the player he was during the Hornets’ run to the Championship play-off final and whether he’s just lost his confidence, or if it’s because he is simply unsettled, I don’t know.

I’ve always rated Ekstrand even with his indifferent form this year so it’ll be sad to see him go, but a move would perhaps be beneficial for both himself and Watford.

I don’t think many Watford fans will be losing sleep if he does decide to ply his trade elsewhere and l won’t be surprised to see him depart during the summer.

Verdict: GONE

Alexander Merkel

Merkel arrived at Vicarage Road in January on loan from Udinese but is yet to make much of an impression.

The midfielder is still trying to live up to the reputation he gained as a teenager but, after picking up a red card against Reading on his debut, he has been reduced to cameo appearances from the substitutes bench.

Both Christian Battochio and Sean Murray seem to be ahead of Merkel in the pecking order, which leads me to believe that Sannino doesn’t see much of a future at Watford for the 22-year-old.

It’s not been all bad for the former AC Milan midfielder, he has shown glimpses of quality but looks almost certain to head back to parent club Udinese due to a lack of game time.

It will be a shame if he does leave Watford as I think, given a run of games, he could prove to be a valuable player.

Verdict: GONE

Troy Deeney

Speculation regarding a summer move to the Premier League for the former Walsall man has ramped up in recent weeks.

Rumours began circulating that Aston Villa and Newcastle United were considering making bids for the 25-year-old – with a transfer fee of around £8 million also being mentioned – while recently-promoted Burnley could also make an offer for his services.

Watford will find it hard to keep hold of the Deeney this summer after back-to-back 20-goal seasons, and the forward’s performances have certainly been worthy of a move to the Premier League.

At times he looks like the only player that wants to get ‘stuck in’ and the forward’s stoppage-time penalty during the Huddersfield defeat could turn out to be the last time his finds the net in a Hornets’ shirt.

That goal pushed Deeney’s goal tally up to an impressive 24 in the league, only 4 behind the Championship’s leading scorer Ross McCormack, and I’m in no doubt that he will have suitors this summer.

Personally, I think he’ll stay where he is and I hope the owners have the same mindset.

If Watford are to win promotion, Troy Deeney will be a huge part of that – especially due to the fact that he’s such a valued member of the squad. Another 20-goal season would help the 2014-15 promotion bid and that could push his value closer to the £10 million mark.

Management need to do everything in their power to ensure he starts the first game next season.

He seems to have such a good relationship with the fans, a mutual appreciation you could say and it’ll be a bitter pill to swallow for the Watford faithful if the striker departs for bigger and better things

However, if Deeney was to depart I don’t think many could blame him. He’s served us well and shown enough quality to warrant a shot at succeeding in the Premier League and, after Saturday’s dismal performance, why would he want to stick around?

The only saving grace in this case is that if Deeney is to go, the Hornets’ owners, the Pozzo family, will ensure that the club get the maximum value for him, so it’s going to have to be a big offer to lure them into a sale.

It may be wishful thinking on my part, but I think Deeney will still be at Vicarage Road next season.

Verdict: STAY

Fitz Hall

After initially giving ‘One Size’ a one-month contract having continued to train with the club despite his release at the end of the 2012-13 season, in November the Hornets gambled and gave the injury-prone defender another one-month deal to the end of the season.

Hall made one start and one substitute appearance before his contract expired but was allowed to continue training with Watford under new head coach Sannino.

He signed another short-term deal in January, which was later extended until the end of the 2014-15 campaign, but unfortunately it’s not quite worked out for the 33-year-old as he has continued to struggle with injuries. This leads me to believe that Hall’s contract will not be renewed.

It’s a shame because I still believe he’s a top class player when fit and, as someone who is big, strong and powerful while possessing leadership qualities that have been sorely lacking this season, he is exactly what we need in a defender; making his ongoing injury problems even more frustrating.

Verdict: GONE

Marco Davide Faraoni

When Faraoni arrived at Vicarage Road a lot was expected from the former Italy under-21 international. It’s fair to say that the hasn’t lived up to his hype; the quality he has is unquestionable, however he’s just far too inconsistent and often backs out of challenges.

I would love it if he was to remain a Watford player because he really could be fantastic player, but I often get the feeling that his heart is not really in it.

There were rumours of a move back to Italy with Torino in January, and I expect Faraoni might be plying his trade there come August.

It looked like a phenomenal transfer on paper but unfortunately it just hasn’t come to fruition for either party.

Verdict: GONE

Marco Cassetti

Towards the beginning of the season Cassetti seemed to flourish playing in a more central defensive role where his lack of pace could not be as exposed as often as it was at wing-back.

While still a capable and intelligent player, I would be very surprised if the Hornets were to keep the 36-year-old for another year.

Cassetti has been a great servant to Watford in the two years he’s been with the club, keeping us mesmerised with his fantastic beard as well as his calm and composed style of football.

Although he could still prove a valuable asset, I don’t think that the scenario that sees the Italian sign another one-year deal is particularly likely as he looks set to return home to his family.

Verdict: GONE

Currently out on loan:

Javier Acuna

Acuna is another of Watford technical director Gianluca Nani’s summer signings that didn’t quite work out.

The 25-year-old forward failed to get a run of games under Gianfranco Zola and was subsequently shipped out to La Liga side Osasuna where he’s scored one goal in 13 games.

For me, Acuna never really got a chance at Vicarage Road so I’d welcome him back to see what he can do. Whether or not that actually happens is a different story altogether.

Verdict: STAY

Diego Fabbrini

Fabbrini received a lot of criticism from Watford fans before a loan move to Serie B outfit Siena materialised in January.

The forward made it clear he didn’t want to pass to anyone else which would have been a little more acceptable if he actually found the net, but he didn’t. I think there’s a good player in there somewhere but I’m not sure the Hornets will be willing to wait until that materialises.

Verdict: GONE

Iriney

Like Acuna, Iriney struggled to make an impact at Watford and was promptly sent back to Spain on loan in January.

Shortly before his transfer window move to RCD Mallorca, the midfielder showed some real promise and I honestly believe he could still have a role to play at the club. After all, there’s a reason he’s amassed over 150 appearances in La Liga.

I think Iriney will be back at Watford for next season.

Verdict: STAY

Whatever happens this summer it sure to be another busy transfer window of comings and goings.

If the players listed above are to leave this summer, then it’s essential that Watford don’t make the same mistake as last year and get in adequate replacements.

Which players do you think will remain at Vicarage Road and which will move on to pastures new? Let me know in the comments below!

What’s causing the Hornets’ stoppage-time struggles?


Watford’s inability to hold on to a lead hit a new low on Saturday when Martyn Woolford’s stoppage-time strike earned Millwall a share of the points at the Den. This is far from the first time the Hornets have surrendered a winning lead this season, so what’s going on and why are we so poor away from home?

Playing under Gianfranco Zola last season, Watford were much stronger away from Vicarage Road; utilising an attacking style of football that created chances by the dozen and converted them (seemingly) at will. It makes you realise just how much has changed since then.

So what’s gone wrong? Personally, I think confidence plays a massive part winning a game of football. Last year the players had a belief and togetherness about them that kept the club going throughout the campaign, that’s not to say that there weren’t sticky patches (Wolves away springs to mind), but the team seems to lack any belief in the final few minutes which has become extremely difficult to watch.

Despite the vast improvement under Giuseppe Sannino, all too often the Hornets find themselves in a commanding position away from home only to throw it away in the stoppage-time.

I go into every Watford game with a fresh sense of enthusiasm so it’s incredibly frustrating to see Watford retreat so drastically with the game in the balance. Of course, you should expect the losing side to ‘have a go’ in the final few minutes, that goes without saying, but when Watford defend so deep in the latter stages it’s simply inviting pressure from the opposition.

Is Sannino instructing his players to sit back and defend their lead? Or are the players so completely devoid of any confidence that it just happens naturally? Tactically, the deeper you drop the more prone you are pressure, and to individuals making costly mistakes. To be honest, though, I feel that the problem is less tactical and more in the players’ heads.

Psychologically, the team looks deflated and I can’t help but feel there seems to be a lack of effort and concentration.

Before Woolford’s equaliser on Saturday, Troy Deeney had an easy opportunity of booting the ball up the pitch in order to waste a few more valuable seconds, but he completely fluffed it. That mistake allowed the ball back into the Hornets’ penalty area, which in turn led to the Millwall forward being given far too much time and space on the ball to get a shot away. Almunia’s attempted save was poor, I’m not denying that, but the simple fact is that the defence would have had time to regroup had the players not panicked whilst clearing their lines.

That really was a bitter pill to swallow for the fans who, less than 10 minutes earlier, were celebrating jubilantly as Almen Abdi looked to have secured Watford all three points and Sannino seemed to pull no punches during his post-match interview.

“What is disappointing me is that when you score two minutes from the end you must win the game,” said the Italian.

“I’m not shocked. I’m angry because it’s happened again.

“It’s happened many times. If you take away all of the stoppage-time from this season, we could be much higher in the table.”

And he’s right, the statistics don’t lie: Watford have surrendered 12 points from winning positions in the last 10 minutes of games this season and 8 points in stoppage-time alone.

You could argue that there’s been a slight overreaction about how many late goals the Hornets have conceded. It’s just part of football, right?

Watford have also gained points during the closing stages of games, but not to that extent; the Championship table really should look a lot different for Sannino’s men. Add the eight points dropped in stoppage-time to the Hornets’ current haul and they’d be sat in sixth with very real play-off credentials.

Our all-too-frequent capitulation during the last 10 minutes could also be attributed to player fitness. After Zola’s resignation in December there were strong rumours of his leniency regarding that aspect of training which would surely have been a contributing factor to our late-game lethargy.

You could also argue that with losing Matej Vydra and Nathaniel Chalobah (and Abdi for the majority of the season), we aren’t quite able to recreate the counter-attacking pace that last season’s side were know for, giving the defence more of a reprieve, but a lack of goals has hardly been the problem – our goal difference of +16 is good for fourth-best in the Championship – it’s the defending of the leads which is letting us down.

It’s not all been doom and gloom for the Hornets, as the Vicarage Road outfit ended a 14-game wait for an away win by beating Sheffield Wednesday 4-1 at Hillsborough a few weeks back.

After going into half-time with a two-goal advantage, I quickly cashed out my bet on Watford using the William Hill app at half time, naturally expecting the worse. In a refreshing change, however, we came out firing on all cylinders, quickly putting the game to bed with another two goals, albeit against some pretty pedestrian Wednesday defending.

I thought that the win against the Owls showed what we can do to teams on the break when we really want to, but I’d like to see more concentration and passion from our team to really fulfil the potential that this current squad undoubtedly possesses.

So what’s the reason for surrendering leads so late in games? I think it’s a combination of player fitness (which stems from Zola’s reign) and, more often that not, the mentality of the players.

A team chasing the game has more to gain than they do to lose in that situation and although the Hornets are probably instructed by Sannino to retain the ball and push higher where possible, the fact that the opposition are pushing more men forward during the closing stages is naturally going to invite pressure. It’s incredibly frustrating to watch, but until the players get over it psychologically, I fear it will continue to happen. I do feel, however, that a full pre-season under Sannino will work wonders for the side.

We continue to take decent numbers away despite enduring a largely disappointing season and our travelling supporters always give the team the encouragement that they need. Pleasingly, we’ve sold out our allocation for QPR on Easter Monday. I’ll be there and I can only hope the Watford players will do us proud next week and bring back the three points the long suffering away fans deserve.

Did the Pozzos underestimate Watford’s Championship challenge?

Much has been made of the Pozzo family since the takeover of Watford for an undisclosed fee in the summer of 2012 and it is no secret that the goal is for the Hornets to become a sustainable Premier League club within the next five years.

The initial euphoria of making it to the Championship play-off final last season was quickly tarnished with a disappointing performance at Wembley and, 10 months later, the Hornets still seem to be suffering a hangover from that 1-0 defeat to Crystal Palace.

Have the Pozzos underestimated Watford’s Championship challenge? How has their ambitious expansion into English football gone so far and what can we learn from fellow Pozzo-owned sides Udinese and Granada?

When Italian businessman Giampaolo Pozzo bought a struggling Serie A side Udinese in 1986 their fortunes increased drastically. Despite a few hiccups on the way – a betting scandal in 1986 led to two relegations before allegations of match fixing followed in 1990 – they are now a recognised club in Italy’s top tier.

This resurgence was mainly down the Pozzos’ shrewd business decisions. Buying young, relatively unknown talent and developing them before selling them on for profit, making the most of an extensive scouting network that brings in talent from all over the world.

In perhaps the most famous example of the Pozzos’ methods in action, Udinese bought Chilean midfielder Alexis Sanchez from Deportes Cobreloa in 2007 before selling him to FC Barcelona four years later for a profit of over £20 million. The money from such transfers is also reinvested back into the club.

The Pozzo family acquired a second club, Granada, in the summer of 2009 with miraculous results. Under the Pozzos’ stewardship, the Spanish club climbed from the third tier to La Liga in just three seasons, achieving their final promotion with an away goals win against Elche in the Spanish equivalent of the Championship play-offs.

Granada’s on-field success was accomplished using the same method that Watford are currently employing at Vicarage Road; a mixture of current first-teamers infused with an influx of fringe players from parent club Udinese.

In fairness it seems to have worked tremendously as after gaining promotion in the summer of 2011, the Andalusian outfit managed to survive in La Liga following a 17th place finish. They finished with a little more breathing space after the 2012-13 season – achieving a 15th place finish – and are currently sitting comfortably in mid-table at the time of writing.

The Pozzos have achieved success with a patient, sustainable approach to tackling the difficulties of running a football club. Obviously it’s far from an easy task but their confidence in winning promotion with Watford was surely born from previous triumphs.

The impact of the Italian revolution on our beloved club in such a short space of time has been overwhelmingly Pozzotive (sorry, I had to say it).

The signings attracted to Vicarage Road are leaps and bounds ahead of the signings made by the previous regime and the style of football, on the whole, has been a joy to behold; last season in particular was the best I’ve seen in terms of quality and entertainment.

It would be fair to say that this season has not quite worked out how we expected it to, which resulted in Gianfranco Zola’s resignation and another Italian being brought in as his replacement in Giuseppe Sannino.

The appointment of Sannino has resulted a complete change in tactics; going from an attack-minded mentality to a more defensive approach which, on the back of a number of mistakes, was definitely required and based on our current home form (five straight league wins without conceding a goal) I think it’s worked out very nicely.

A number of Watford fans initially questioned the Pozzos’ decision to replace Zola with the relatively unknown former Chievo boss. But, while there are still some question marks regarding the limits of Sannino’s capabilities, I feel they have once again shown us that they know exactly what’s best for the club.

I don’t think there’s much doubt in the majority of fans’ minds that the Hornets can win promotion to the Premier League in the not too distant future, but do the Pozzos have the power and resources to keep us in the richest league in the world? I guess only time will tell.

Success in the Premier League is more often than not based on one of two things: money (and a lot of it) or a proven history of developing players capable of playing at the highest level (Everton and Southampton spring to mind). Watford have neither in great abundance.

As we are all aware by now, the ‘Pozzo model’ does not involve overspending on transfers or players’ wages, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. One thing I will say, though, is that the Premier League is a demanding environment.

If Watford are to succeed in the long-term, the mix of youth development and transfers has to be spot on, which is worrying, based on the all too frequent disappointment of technical director Gianluca Nani’s imports.

I’d say the youth development at Vicarage Road is adequate – given that over 50 have come through the Harefield Academy to play first-team football – even if only Ashley Young is the only one to really make a name for himself in the Premier League.

My worry is that if the Hornets do make it to the top tier, Udinese’s fringe players will not be enough to keep them there.

Sure, we’ve struck gold a couple of times (Matej Vydra, Fernando Forestieri and Gabriele Angella spring to mind) but on the whole it’s going to cost us dearly if player recruitment isn’t addressed – not only this coming summer but further down the line.

As a Watford fan, of course I want my side to do well but I fear the Pozzos may have underestimated just how difficult the challenge will of getting out of the Championship can be, never mind staying competitive in the Premier League.

I think the Pozzos expected the arrivals of Diego Fabbrini, who has a full international cap for Italy, and Davide Faraoni who was bought from Inter Milan for a reported £5 million would be enough to get us promoted this season, however we’ve learnt the hard way that all the Championship doesn’t work like that.

The signings made during the January transfer window had more than a hint of panic buying to them. Although Daniel Toszer, in particular, has proved to be an astute pick-up who we surely must try to sign in the summer, are the recent arrivals a sign that the management are starting to worry?

When asked recently about player recruitment Watford’s chief executive Scott Duxbury told the Watford Observer: “Many of the players that have joined the squad this season will have gained invaluable championship experience, and it’s important we build on this.

“Clearly we have to learn from some of the mistakes we have made this season and there are certain players and player profiles which we will look to add to the squad in the summer.”

Effectively, Duxbury is conceding that player recruitment has been poor, but reassuringly, the club are learning from their mistakes.

While the priority must remain on gaining promotion from the Championship whether that’s this year, next year or even the year after that, I do believe that if we do achieve that goal the Pozzos will keep us there.

Success is rarely instant, it wasn’t with Udinese, it was perhaps more so with Granada which could be what we based our initial expectations on, but the Italians are here for the long haul and I have confidence they’ll do things the right way given time.

The Premier League is the most lucrative in the world and the Pozzos won’t want to miss out on that – first and foremost they are businessmen. Personally, I find it difficult to believe they have any particular love for our club; it’s more likely that they see it as a great business opportunity, but who’s complaining?

The stability the Pozzos have brought to Watford both on and off the pitch literally saved the club, but to know that we genuinely have ambitions of becoming an established Premier League side is incredible.

We owe the Pozzos our support and despite the current campaign not exactly turning out as expected, I believe we need to put our trust in them too.

Are they happy with what’s happening at Vicarage Road? I couldn’t tell you. I imagine they’ll be pretty frustrated with how this season has gone, yet I can only see them giving Watford the resources to have a proper crack at winning this league next season. I have no doubt in my mind that it’s going to be a rocky road but I can’t wait to see what happens next.

I’ll leave you with another re assuring extract from Duxbury: “We are learning from the mistakes, we are learning from the experiences and it is only a matter of time before we have a squad which has the necessary experience and is very competitive. We will achieve what we want to do.”

Forza Watford!

Can Sannino win promotion with Watford?

Needless to say this season has not quite panned out quite the way we – as Watford fans – wanted it to.

But vast improvement under Giuseppe Sannino in recent months has got me thinking, is this the man to lead us forward?

Upon the appointment of the relatively unknown Italian as our new head coach, replacing compatriot Gianfranco Zola, my instant reaction was to question the Pozzo family’s logic. However, you cannot argue with the Hornets’ home form since he took the job in December; winning our last five home games without conceding is an impressive feat, especially when you consider that Watford shipped 11 goals in Zola’s last five games at Vicarage Road.

Watford’s record under Sannino at the Vic is notable. Since taking the job in late December, the Hornets have lost only once at home and that was a 1-0 defeat to play-off contenders Reading.

Unfortunately, one consequence of this defensive improvement comes at a price; the style of football has not exactly been mesmerising and on more than one occasion we’ve looked a little lacklustre going forward. But we’d rather get promoted playing ugly rather than be stuck in mid-table pinging the ball around like Barcelona, right? And this leads me to the question: is Sannino the man to achieve promotion the Premier League with Watford?

Losing to Doncaster on Tuesday night effectively put to bed the majority of fans’ aspirations of a late surge into the Championship play-off picture; an opinion that most have had for months. Perhaps we can stop worrying and enjoy the rest of this season. The Italian may have impressed in the early stages of his reign but promotion is beyond us in the short-term at least.

Personally, I’m a big fan of Sannino and have relished what he’s managed to achieve in a relatively short space of time. You’ve got to say its nice turning up to a home game being confident we’re not going to concede three, but looking forward to next season, will the Italian be able to do enough to get us in to the top tier of English football?

Winning promotion in the championship is, more often than not, based around a solid defence; just look at Cardiff City and Hull City last year! As we have already seen, building a solid defence under Sannino should be no problem, however we’ve been unable to recreate the free-flowing form of last season, mainly due to a lack of a certain Czech Republic international forward and an injury-plagued midfielder Almen Abdi.

And that is where I believe Gianluca Nani, Watford’s technical director and head of recruitment, comes in. Player recruitment so far this season has been more than poor so Nani simply must step up this summer and give Sannino the tools he requires to build a team capable of winning promotion on both sides of the ball.

Daniel Tozser has been one of the major positives from a largely underwhelming who needs to be signed permanently, that’s the first job. Secondly, a pacey forward who can put the ball in the net is pivotal because we have missed that greatly this term. Sort those two major issues out and we’re half way there. Holding on to defensive talisman Gabriele Angella is equally important; the highly-rated Italian is said to be attracting interest from several Premier League clubs so there’s no denying that this squad has talent, and that for me is what makes this season so frustrating.

I believe, with a little help in terms of player recruitment, Sannino will have what it takes to lead us on a promotion charge next season.

Some may argue that the Italian lacks experience in English football and that he’s too defensive, however, I disagree with this. A solid defence provides a foundation to succeed. If the Hornets can keep the opposition at bay for an entire 90 minutes, they only need to score one goal each game! The majority of fans who predicted Watford would achieve automatic promotion this year, myself included, have perhaps learnt a lesson in terms of how difficult the Championship can be to escape from. To put it simply, we cannot afford to underestimate the competition!

One thing that does need to be addressed is our shocking away form, as someone who has routinely suffered during Watford away days (Bolton Wanderers topping my list of worst away days closely followed by Barnsley last year), I am already prepared to punish myself at Wigan. To be honest I’m not sure what this lack of away form is down to, tactical naivety on the management side perhaps? Poor substitutions? Lack of fitness? Or just back luck. Whatever the issue is, it needs to be ironed out as soon as possible.

Much has been made of Zola’s (seemingly) slack training regime, so it will be interesting to see how Sannino approaches pre-season. I would expect high intensity training as the lack of fitness amongst our players is becoming increasingly evident, as the number of goals conceded in the last 10 minutes of games will testify.

A full pre-season could be just what Sannino needs and I’m sure a couple of signings in key areas will be much appreciated by Watford fans. In my opinion these two factors can only lead to an exciting and prosperous 2014-15 season, even if the 2013-14 campaign has become a write-off. Whatever happens next season you can be sure it will be eventful, so let’s enjoy the rest of the season now that the pressure is off and support Sannino as much as possible. To answer my earlier question: yes, I believe Sannino can lead the Hornets to promotion. Forza Watford!