I think it’s fair to say that the 2013-14 season fell below our expectations.
Many Watford fans held out hope of a late play-off push but, although there has been noticeable improvement under Giuseppe Sannino, far too many of the problems that plagued the Hornets during Gianfranco Zola’s tenure have yet to be shaken off.
By saying that, I’m not in any way knocking Sannino; the Italian has done an excellent job and achieved exactly what was expected of him when he took over in December.
But as a mid-table finish draws ever closer, focus must now shift to next season where, after learning from previous mistakes, we will undoubtedly be better equipped to make another run at promotion to the Premier League – won’t we?
Here are five things that I think should happen at Vicarage Road this summer if Watford are to successfully negotiate the Championship:
Sign Daniel Tozser to a permanent contract
Speaking of negotiations, a good start would be to sign Hungary international Daniel Tozser to a permanent contract.
The only loanee to really make an impression at Vicarage Road this season, Tozser, who joined on a deal until the end of the season from Serie A side Genoa in January, has filled the Hornets’ ‘problem position’ (also known as the ‘Chalobah role’) to everyone’s satisfaction.
With the loss of Nathaniel Chalobah in the summer as well as the prolonged absence of Almen Abdi in the Watford midfield, Tozser has provided a calming influence in the middle of the park which has only resulted in positivity going forward.
Here’s hoping his good friend Daniel Pudil can convince him to remain a Hornet beyond this season, if he hasn’t done so already.
Recruit in key areas (quality over quantity)
Rather than adopt the (seemingly) hit and hope recruitment policy that I wrote about earlier this season, I’d like to see Watford’s technical director Gianluca Nani add quality rather than quantity this summer.
Sannino’s recent comments (regarding Burnley’s success despite having such a small squad) could indicate that the Watford side is set to be streamlined, however, I believe that the squad needs strengthening in a few key areas.
I think, at the very least, we need to sign a goalkeeper to replace the (probably) outgoing Manuel Almunia, a defender who is good in the air, cover in the wide positions and, of course, a forward.
Talking of forwards…
While a number of fans seem to believe that Matej Vydra will make a triumphant return to Vicarage Road this summer off the back of a counter-productive loan spell at West Bromwich Albion, I simply can’t see it myself.
The Czech Republic international made no secret of his desire to play in the Premier League before his eventual switch to the Baggies last summer and, while he hasn’t set England’s top tier alight since then, I’m sure the soon-to-be out-of-contract forward will continue to generate interest when the current campaign ends.
Watford would welcome back the Championship’s 2012-13 Player of the Season with open arms but should Vydra continue to seek a future away from Vicarage Road, a forward with pace who plays on the shoulders of opposing defenders – a poacher, if you will – is a must.
Reducing number of players coming through the ‘revolving door’ will bring some stability within the squad while I think it’s also important that the Hornets do their business as early as possible, so that the players can have the maximum amount of time to get to know each other during pre-season.
Scott Duxbury seemed to back up those thoughts during a recent interview with the Watford Observer, saying: “Many of the players that joined the squad last year 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.
“Like any squad there will be fine tuning and movement but the core of the squad is there and stability is the key word.
“If we do that then we will have a very competitive squad next season.
“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 and we will achieve what we want to do.”
Keep hold of Troy Deeney
As I’m sure you are all aware, Deeney has scored 20 goals in consecutive seasons in the Championship, a feat that will almost certainly attract the attention of a number of Premier League clubs in the summer.
In my opinion the Hornets must keep hold of one of their stand-out players if they are to stand a chance at winning promotion.
He can be replaced, sure, but let’s not forget that Deeney also counts towards the quota of six homegrown players in a matchday squad.
Watford will be expecting offers for the forward in the summer and head coach Giuseppe Sannino has previously expressed his view that he deserves to play in the top tier.
Not too long ago, the Italian said: “He is a good player and it is normal that he would have the attention of Premier League clubs. In my opinion, he deserves to one day play in the Premier League.”
The recruitment model of the Hornets’ owners, the Pozzo family, is to develop players and then sell at a perceived optimum price and the owners will have a decision to make as to whether they want to try to retain his services for their promotion push next season or sell if a good enough offer is received. Personally, I’d say an offer in the region of £7 million will convince them to sell.
And while I don’t doubt that Deeney is happy at Watford, I get the impression (from reading some of his posts on Instagram and Twitter) that he would bolt for (Premier League) pastures new if the opportunity arose.
You can’t blame a player for wanting to play at the highest level, but a part of me likes to think that we’ve earned Deeney’s loyalty by standing by him during his prison sentence.
Another 20-goal season from the forward would certainly enhance the Hornets’ promotion push during the 2014-15 campaign, and it would also increase the player’s valuation even further. A win-win situation, perhaps?
Have a productive pre-season
Much has been made of the players’ fitness lacking somewhat under Zola, with many fans blaming it for the current trend of conceding late goals, so a full pre-season should give Sannino the chance to eradicate any lingering issues.
After making evident progress since taking over in December last year, the Italian will also be afforded time to get some new ideas across.
He’s stated before that his preferred formation is 4-4-2, but whether Sannino decides to make the switch from 3-5-2 remains to be seen.
Continued off-pitch improvement
This isn’t so much something I hope will happen at Vicarage Road this summer; we’ve already seen evidence that it’s going to happen.
Oh my goodness! We’re going to have a four-sided ground again!
With this gesture the Pozzos will have established themselves, not as the foreign businessmen destroying the ‘soul’ of our club that many outside the club would have them portrayed as, but as our Italian knights in shining armour that most of us inside the club always knew they were.
And it doesn’t stop there; Watford are in discussions with Hertsmere Borough Council regarding the redevelopment of the club’s training ground facilities – which would include a medical centre and rehabilitation pool.
New changing rooms, offices and a gym would also be built as part of the work at London Colney, which is owned by University College London and leased on a long-term basis by the Hornets.
Work has already started on two new ‘stadium-quality’ pitches, costing around £500,000, on the site, which should be completed in time for pre-season.
So while the 2013-14 season has not quite gone to plan on the pitch, the Pozzos have brought much-needed stability to Watford FC and, what’s more, they continue to build the infrastructure around the club in a self-sufficient way whilst chasing promotion to the Premier League.
I think we could be in for some exciting times ahead. Forza Watford!