Saturday, 29 June 2013

Return post

Having examined how the Pozzos fared against the criteria I decided to judge them against at the start of last season, it seems only fair to do the same for the manager they appointed. In a post entitled ‘Dear Mr Zola’ I laid out five points I was hoping Gianfranco might ponder…

1) Do your homework
I was keen for the new boss to learn a bit about Watford’s history and traditions, as an extra bulwark against the possibility of the club losing its identity under the new regime. To be honest, it’s hard to tell whether he did or didn’t. All managers use interviews and programme notes to emphasis how much they appreciate the history of the club they’re lucky enough to be in charge of, and Zola was no exception. But in his case, I tend to believe him. He just seems like that kind of guy.

2) Give (our) youth a chance
I wasn’t the only one who was worried that opportunities for graduates of the Watford Academy might disappear, given the size our new squad. It’s true that the ‘lost generation’ of Academy graduates – Bennett, Mingoia, Hodson, Jenkins – found opportunities few and far between, and even though the latter two still have a year left on their contracts, I doubt we’ll see much of them next season.

But Zola skipped a generation to give game time to younger players whose talents were deemed more suitable to the new model Watford. Tommy Hoban and Jonathan Bond grasped theirs with both hands, Sean Murray less so, and Connor Smith had limited chances to shine. The only worrying thing is that they all suffered from injuries, with Bond’s arguably having a decisive effect on the outcome of our season. But with all four signed up for the next few years, they have a real chance to push on with Watford.

3) Find a decent penalty-taker
Missed penalties have been a miserable fact of life for Watford fans for longer than I can remember, but this season brought a big improvement. Abdi, Deeney and Vydra all scored two each, and if we did miss any, I can’t remember them. Another tick in the box.

(Oh, and the fact that we finally found a goalkeeper capable of keeping penalties out at the other end also came in handy.)

4) Keep us up
It’s hard to remember now, but for a couple of months there was genuine fear among Hornets fans that Zola wouldn’t manage this fundamental part of his job, as he struggled to shape a consistent and effective team from his enormous squad. But once he settled on a formation that suited his best players, he never looked back.

5) Don’t drop Doyley
Talking of his best players… Of course, Zola ignored my advice initially, just like every other Watford manager for the past decade. Lloyd didn’t feature much until late October, when the Italian saw the error of his ways. Then a rare injury kept him out of the team from mid-November until the New Year – but after that, playing on the right-hand side of a back three gave him the opportunity to show his defensive skills time and time again, and he was the standout player in our play-off campaign.

All in all, it’s hard to find much to complain about. I’m looking forward to seeing how Zola tackles next season, when his team will start as one of the favourites for promotion. That’s assuming we sign a few players, of course.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

So, how was the pudding?

It’s been two months since my last post – two months in which a hell of a lot has happened. If I haven’t said anything about it, it was partly because I didn’t have anything new to add to the deluge of reaction and opinion to the astonishing climax to Watford’s season, and partly because I was simply too damn busy. Sometimes life gets in the way, and you just have to let others get on with the important task of spouting opinionated nonsense about the goings-on at Vicarage Road.

Talking of opinionated nonsense… Back in July, when the Pozzos took over, I wrote this post about the measures they would be judged against by Watford fans (well, by me at any rate). So I thought it might be interesting to revisit it (I haven’t read it since I wrote it) and see how they did.

These were the five key areas I listed:

1) The ground
Improving the embarrassment that is Vicarage Road should be a priority, I said, and as for the shell of the South-West Corner, “I would now expect work to start before Christmas and for it to be finished in time for next season.”

Well, that clearly didn't happen, and even if they started work now, it wouldn't be done by August. On this issue (and this alone, I hasten to add), the Pozzos have done no better than Bassini. Let’s be charitable and say that it’s obviously not as straightforward as it might appear. I now read that the original plans will have to be rethought anyway, as a result of new Premiership regulations which Watford are hoping they’ll need to comply with sooner or later. In the meantime, at least there's still a handy railing for fans to hang flags from.

2) The traditions
No complaints here. ‘Z Cars’ has remained in its rightful place, and there hasn’t been any hint of any Cardiff-type plans to change the club’s colours or identity. I’m not a fan of the new home kit, mind you. Where’s the red?

3) The fans
If the Pozzos want to gain the trust of the fans, they should organise a couple of Fans’ Forums fairly early on, and make sure that key personnel attend.”

They did that, and by all accounts it was well worth the effort. All those who’ve met the people now running the club speak warmly of them (which certainly wasn’t the case with Bassini), and that’s reassuring.

4) The players
“I just want to see evidence of some thinking before the dressing room starts filling up with random foreigners,” I said in July.

Some hope. Soon we had a squad of 40+ professionals, and poor Gianfranco was clearly struggling to work out what to do with them all. The stage was set for a chaotic and disappointing season.

That it didn’t turn out that way is a tribute to Zola’s managerial skills. The management have since more or less admitted that, given the timeframe, their best option was to chuck a bunch of players at him and hope he’d be able to fashion a coherent team from them. And it won’t happen again (not least because of the Football League’s peevish change of the rule on foreign loans). So I’ll let them off.

5) The Watford way
The ultimate litmus test (or "Would GT have done that?” as I put it) – and I reckon the new owners have passed it. If the 2012-13 vintage Watford didn’t feel entirely like the club we know and love, it didn’t feel wrong either. It certainly felt strange watching fluid passing movements leading to spectacular goals, week after week, but that’s something I’m happy to get used to. Above all, it felt as if someone had looked at Watford and thought to themselves, “We can improve on that, without losing the essence of the club.”