Sunday, 14 June 2015

The greatest hits album

My last two posts have been read by unprecedented numbers of people. (Well, unprecedented for me, at least – I dare say those bloggers who can be bothered to write more than once a fortnight would regard my stats as rather puny.) So, since I presumably have some new readers, and since there’s nothing much to talk about until the fixtures are published on Wednesday, I thought I’d share some of my favourite posts from the past eight years. Good grief, have I really being doing this that long?

A quick introduction for those who are new to the blog; I tend to leave match reports and commentary on the latest goings-on at Vicarage Road to others, with the occasional exception when something has got my dander up, or when I think I’ve spotted something no one else has commented on. Instead, as the subheading suggests, I write about memories from my 45 years of following Watford, crackpot theories about the Hornets and the wider world of football, and anything else I feel like rambling on about.

Two of my personal favourites are memories from my childhood. Confessions of the world’s worst ballboy features my inglorious contribution to a long-forgotten pre-season friendly at the Vic, while Just once, oh lord… is a tale from my equally ignominious career in schoolboy rugby. At the time it was intended to encourage my favourite player, Lloyd Doyley, who had yet to score a goal for the Hornets, that he might one day manage the feat. Less than two years later, he did so. Coincidence?

The demolition of the old Main Stand the season before last sparked reminiscences (pithily entitled Main Stand memories) of my early days peering around its pillars to follow the action. The ironically named Confessions of a groundhopper is about an accidental visit to a reserve team fixture at a northern non-league ground in the depths of winter. I include it here chiefly to prove that I am capable of writing about something other than Watford.

Last but not least, The myth of home advantage is about just that; my conviction (undimmed over time) that the notion that the team playing at home has some sort of head start merely by virtue of that fact is complete baloney, a giant con trick perpetrated by the entire football world, and that said football world would be a better place if we stopped pretending home advantage existed.

So there you are: memories, ramblings and rants. Expect more of the same next season, with the occasional mention of the Premier League if you’re lucky.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

Managing the transition

Given that this is supposedly the quietest period of the off-season, with the transfer window not officially open for another three weeks, it’s been a busy week at Vicarage Road. We’ve signed two new players, re-loaned Matty Vydra from Udinese for another two seasons, waved goodbye to the head coach and two assistant coaches and replaced them with a new trio.

The fact that these things happened in the order that I’ve listed them is significant, as it highlights that the changes on the coaching staff aren’t actually quite as important as the rest of the football world may think. In the traditional English football club model, it’s unlikely that new players would be signed while the manager was in the midst of negotiations about renewing his contract. At Watford, player recruitment isn’t part of the head coach’s remit, and he is expected to create a winning team from the squad assembled for him by Scott Duxbury and co.

Although I’m sad to see Slav go, and there are the inevitable fears that accompany the arrival of a new head coach (will he get the players on his side, will he get his tactics right, will he understand the ‘Watford way’?), in one way I welcome this week’s events precisely because they deemphasise the primacy of the man on the touchline. It’s a truism that we (by which I mean the whole football world, from the fans to the media) fetishise the role of the manager, making him the focus of way too much praise and blame. Not only is that not fair on the poor sod in charge, but it gives the rest of the club, from the players to the board, an easy get-out when things are going badly. “It’s not our fault, it’s the manager’s; sack him and get someone else in, and everything will be fine.”

In fact, professional football managed perfectly well without managers for half a century or so; the club secretary picked the team and the players got on with working out how to win matches. I sometimes wish we could go back to that system. After all, shouldn’t 11 grown men be able to work out how to beat the opposition without having to be told?

Ah, but it’s all about motivation, isn’t it? Really? So if a team goes in at half-time 2-0 down, they wouldn’t be bothered about trying to get back into the game in the second half if there wasn’t a man in a suit there to shout at them and chuck teacups about?

I should say that I’m writing this as someone who – apart from a few five-a-side games in my twenties with a team from work – hasn’t actually played organised football since junior school. And I acknowledge that the example of Graham Taylor does rather undermine my argument about the role a manager can play in a team’s success… But I stick by the point that it’s good for the game of football if the manager isn’t viewed as being solely responsible for the performance of the team. At Watford, Quique Flores (we don’t have to say ‘Sánchez’ every time, do we?) will have an important part to play, obviously; but only within the framework created by the executive team.

Of course, it could all go horribly wrong and we could be in a crisis by Christmas. But I don’t think we will. The point of the Pozzo model is to create continuity within the club that means it can survive the departure of a successful head coach. I can’t wait to see how Quique gets on.