Now that the reality of relegation has set in at Vicarage Road, it will be time before we see the direction ownership and management want to take. I’ve had a few ask me for my thoughts on the direction of the club. There has already been some excellent articles from numerous supporters I follow, who have given their thoughts, it was about time I shared just a few of mine, even though these won’t apply to the FPL next season.
First and foremost, who was responsible for the product we saw on the pitch, a shade of their former self from the 2018/19 season that ended poorly in the FA Cup, but overall was a very successful campaign? Six days ago owner, Gino Pozzo and chairman, CEO, Scott Duxbury took to answering that question in a letter to the supporters.
It was no surprise to read that there was a “huge disappointment as losing [our] Premier status.” The Pozzo’s run the club as a business and don’t hide that fact, supporters are well aware that some high profile players don’t remain at Vicarage Road, but move on to bigger clubs and we secure a nice tidy sum for those players.
Watford have achieved quite a bit over the eight years they have been in the top division, never once did I think they would ever be a top four club or even have a chance at qualifying for Europa League spot. However, none of that really bothers me. I feel the club has succeeded by remaining in the Premier League, albeit mid-table, but that didn’t matter to me. Put a quality product on the pitch that is competitive and I will watch Watford football until I die.
Pozzo and Duxbury did not want “one moment of disappointment” to take away from what was achieved, as they are committed to the “long term.” More importantly, “That is not to detract from mistakes that were made surrounding the team this season. We have to be scrupulously honest with ourselves and admit our efforts surrounding the team were not good enough.”
Mistakes…sure we can sit back now and point fingers, cite events that lead to where we are now, looking at a reorganization with Championship League football on the horizon. The biggest mistake, rolling through three manager, with Hayden Mullins filling an interim role twice as Watford was without an active manager. I continue to ponder, what if ownership and the chairman did continue to back Javi Gracia, even after a winless start through four games, picking up a single point (winless in 8 game going back to the end of 2018/19). This on the back of a 6-0 FA Cup final that saw Watford fall to Manchester City in the most lopsided victory ever.
I recall commenting on Watford weekly on The Pitch & Pint Podcast that we could potentially see the sale some our star players this January, during the winter transfer window, depending on where we were in the table. That was out “golden” period of play under Nigel Pearson, that spanned points in six straight games, climbing to 17th in the league table. It appeared things were turning around.
That success was short lived, as Watford were in and out of the bottom the three and struggling at both ends of the pitch. It’s now seven days since the end of the season and we are starting to see chips fall and rumors of players not wanting to remain at Watford playing in the Championship. Names topping the list Gerard Deulofeu, Ismaila Sarr, Abdoulaye Doucoure, Kiko Femenia and captain, Troy Deeney. We could see some of our younger players leave as well, names that have been bantered around, Luis Suarez and Purvis Estupinan. Both of these players could finally get their chances for the first team if they remain at Watford.
As for the more senior players, it’s no surprise. As reported last week, “The majority of players at Vicarage Road are contractually obliged to take pay cuts of up to 50 per cent if the club are relegated to the Championship this week. But a number of their biggest earners are not bound by those deals.” Deulofeu moving on, coming off injury isn’t a bad thing. I don’t honestly think he will be the same sort of dynamic player he was prior to the ruptured ACL. He has been linked with a move back to AC Milan.
While we did sign Sarr and Doucoure to long term contracts, they could fetch a combined £90 million for Watford when sold. Sarr has been linked with Wolves, Crystal Palace as well as Liverpool in recent days. Doucoure had been courted by French teams prior to signing with Watford though 2023. More recently Arsenal and Everton are looking at his services in the midfield. Just what Watford needs to do, send another player to Everton! With Javi Gracia signing on as the manager of Valencia, there is speculation that he was to reunite with Deulofeu and Femenia in La Liga.
Troy Deeney, supporters and football fans, either love the man or despise him. For me, I back Deeney, even though he’s now 32 and not at the top of his game, he can still bring something to the Hornets, both on and off the pitch. Can he still fill they captain role at Watford? He does bring a passion and dedication to the game and always seems to give his best on the pitch. He’s passionate and leaders by example and I feel players respect this in their long serving captain.
That said, Watford might move the 32 year-old captain, opting to go with youth. He’s been a mainstay at Vicarage Road since 2010, coming to the Hertfordshire club from Walsall. His tenure with the club could be at an end. After the 3-2 loss to Arsenal, Deeney said, “I honestly don’t know if this is going to be my last game at Watford or in the Premier League. If I do ultimately stop playing for Watford as of now I’ve had a great run.”
The latest rumor for Deeney has him going to Spurs to play under Jose Mourhino, as cover for Harry Kane. This would give Spurs a big body in the middle on a part time basis, who can hold up player, bang inside the box and still find the back of the net when inside the six yard box.
BACK THE MAN
While we don’t know who will guide the Hornets in their return to the Championship, there have been a few names mentioned. It’s my hope we don’t see one of the former bosses, like Walter Mazzarri return. I do think that “experiment” failed when Quique Sanchez Flores stepped in during the season and didn’t win the support or games to retain his job. While I don’t think of Chris Hughton on the same level as an Alan Pardew, Sam Allardyce or Steve Bruce, who continually show up at various mid and lower table teams. I do have high respect for Hughton and what he could bring to Vicarage Road, but he appears to be turned off by the “short-termism” that managers have at Watford.
A recent article in the Watford Observer has the club looking at Austrian, Gerhard Struberm who most recently has managed Barnsley, keeping them from relegation in the Champioship. The other interesting candidate is Vladimir Ivic, who’s resume for the Israeli Premier League club, Maccabi Tel-Aviv has him willing back to back championships winning 61 games over that period and conceding just 48 goals. Impressive credentials to bring to the relegated club that will feature many new faces, but could give the Serbian a foot into English football.
At this point I hope we can hold onto Ben Foster and Will Hughes to help solidify the squad as we look forward to September 12 and the start of the Championship League. Since I’ve not watched this league since Watford was last involved, I can’t speak for its strength and the chances the Hornets have to return. Losing some key players will hurt, but also allow us to build a new identity in our bid to finish in first or second for the automatic promotion. Worst case, the top six and the league playoffs.
Just off a poor season, Watford might have enough returning players to keep a relatively strong core with Foster and Dawson, along with the return of Ben Wilmot at the back. Hughes will continue to lead the midfield, potentially with Ken Sema and youngster, Domingos Quina joining him. Up front, the possibility of Joao Pedro, Cucho Hernandez or Adalberto Penarando are all possibilities.