Why Watford are a snapshot of all that's wrong with the modern game
22:57 GMT, 25 September 2012
The sell is Alexis Sanchez. The
reality is Steve Leo Beleck. The fantasy is a brave new world. The
reality is 20th in the Championship. The model is Udinese of Serie A.
The reality is Watford.
There are 42 first-team players on the
books at Vicarage Road this season, 14 of whom are on loan including 10
from one club, Udinese. Like Watford, the Italian side are owned by the
Pozzo family and very successful they have been, too. The past two
seasons, they have missed out on Champions League football in the final
Watford, however, are a different
proposition. Last season, they were a tight little unit managed by Sean
Dyche who, against all odds and expectation, finished a very creditable
11th in the Championship with a squad of mostly British players.
Dyche was a journeyman professional, a
centre back who played most of his career at Chesterfield, also having
spells at Bristol City, Luton Town, Millwall, Northampton Town and,
between 2002 and 2005, Watford. He returned to the club as youth team
coach in 2007, was made assistant manager to Malky Mackay in 2009 and
took the manager’s job in 2011. His one season in charge represented the
club’s best finish since 2007-08. Naturally, when the Pozzo family took
over, they sacked him.
A recipe for success Gianfranco Zola's Watford are 20th in the Championship
This season, the manager is Premier
League legend Gianfranco Zola, the director of football is Gianluca
Nani, an old friend from Italy, the squad now boasts 15 football
nationalities and a draw with Bristol City on Saturday was all that
avoided the worst start to a season in six years. Watford had lost their
previous three games and have won two of their first seven in the
Pre-season talk of promotion and
football from the heavens has given way to a grimmer truth. This entails
a fight for survival in a famously unpredictable competition with a
group of players who are passing through and a manager on unfamiliar
If Watford drop, many of their
temporary recruits will simply return to their true employers Udinese or
Granada in Spain — the other club owned by the Pozzos, who bought
Watford for 15million — to be replaced in all probability by a new
Dyche’s final match in charge was a
2-1 win over Middlesbrough on the final day of last season. From the 13
players used that afternoon, only two started Watford’s last game and
two were substitutes. There were six loan players in the starting
line-up and two more came on from the bench; one player of the XI was
English, Nathaniel Chalobah. He is on loan from Chelsea.
The appeal of the Pozzo takeover is that Udinese is another of those clubs with a philosophy. Just as Moneyball
was going to elevate Liverpool to the top again, until Damien Comolli
turned it into a billionaire equivalent of Supermarket Sweep, so Udinese
have a transfer policy for which the owners, not the coaches, assume
Fingers in many pies: Giampaolo Pozzo, owner of Udinese, Granada and Watford
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Sanchez, spotted as a youngster in
Chile and eventually sold to Barcelona for 21m, is held up as the
finest recent example of Udinese’s nose for talent, but Marcio Amoroso,
Gokhan Inler, Oliver Bierhoff, Marek Jankulovski, Fabio Quagliarella,
Stephen Appiah, Asamoah Gyan and Sulley Muntari have all starred at
Stadio Friuli before being sold at a premium.
prospect of bringing this level of expertise to Watford must have
looked very pleasing to supporters who saw a club going backwards,
almost into administration, after the briefest of flirtations with
Premier League status.
this is, admittedly, the beginning of the project. The new owners would
wish judgment to wait until at least the end of the season and perhaps
for a couple of years. So nobody is saying the Pozzos’ involvement in
Watford will not work. It may all come together splendidly.
The point is it shouldn’t be allowed to work. It shouldn’t be allowed, period. No club should be able to put out an entire starting XI of loan players, plus three subs. No club should have 10 players, almost a team, registered to one generous donor. Watford has been transformed overnight into Udinese’s finishing school, with all the loss of identity that entails. Champions of the loan system see its contribution as necessary, even beneficial, spreading talent and helping bring through young players who would otherwise find their first-team opportunities limited. Many of the world’s finest footballers have at some time gained valuable experience through a temporary transfer.
Yet even the loan defenders must be unnerved by what is unfolding at Watford. This is a club with history, a club that came through four divisions to challenge for the English title, that nurtured future England managers, that produced one of the finest English players of the modern era in John Barnes and more recently Ashley Young.
Success story: Ashley Young is a product of Watford's academy
It is not Udinese’s tool, nor should Championship teams have to overcome Serie A Lite. At the very least there should be a limit on the loan intake in any one season or from any one club. More healthily, clubs should work with what they have got.
Premier League chief executive Richard Scudamore proposes this reform almost every year, without success. Club chairmen like what is cheap, and in a financial sense a job lot from Udinese will certainly compare positively to 15 new signings.
Watford fans may at first have been taken in by the idea of forming a mighty triumvirate with Italian and Spanish clubs, but building a team around 10 Udinese cast-offs, who will no doubt pine for a return and a chance in Italy’s top league if they ever do hit form, is no basis for long-term success. All here is temporary.
Previously, clubs such as Beveren in Belgium have been turned into clearing houses. A youth academy founded by Jean-Marc Guillou in Abidjan took advantage of Belgium’s loose work-permit regulations to use the club as a European shop window for players from the Ivory Coast. Emmanuel Eboue was one graduate.
The Championship gap year may be beneficial to Udinese, too, but what are the products of Watford’s own academy to make of this policy When attracting youngsters, a key selling point for any club outside the Premier League is that it will, by necessity, give young talent a chance.
Struggling: Watford's Fernando Forestieri (right) battles with Brighton's Bruno Saltor
Watford are fishing in the same pool that contains all of London’s Premier League clubs, in particular Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur to the north. Watford train at the London Colney ground belonging to University College London, vacated by Arsenal when they built their new facility next door.
No doubt previously, parents of promising
teenagers would be told that while their son would almost certainly
find his path blocked by expensive acquisitions going straight into the
first-team squad at Arsenal, Watford look to youth. Make a name there,
like Young, and then move.
Double act: Gianluca Nani and Zola during their West Ham days
What will the club tell them now If you’re going to be pegged behind half of Udinese’s reserve team anyway, signing for Arsenal doesn’t seem such a long shot. Watford have lost their unique selling point. So who are they, this legion of temporarily hired hands Nobody you would know. Joel Ekstrand, Jean-Alain Fanchone, Neuton, Marco Cassetti, Almen Abdi, Christian Battocchio, Fernando Forestieri, Steve Leo Beleck, Matej Vydra and Alex Geijo from Udinese, Daniel Pudil and Ikechi Anya from Granada, Chalobah from Chelsea, Geoffrey Mujangi Bia from Standard Liege. Beautiful British names, as Al Murray’s Pub Landlord might say.
Any gems Vydra and Abdi look the best of it so far, apparently, but the sheer number smacks of throwing viscous material at a wall and seeing what sticks. Zola is again working with Nani as his technical director, which followers of West Ham United will confirm does not always end in glory.
When Matt Jarvis signed for West Ham this summer, his 10m fee broke a previous club transfer record for Savio Magala Nsereko, then of Brescia. Don’t feel embarrassed, there is no real reason why anyone beyond Upton Park should have heard of him.
West Ham paid in the region of 9m for Savio, despite him having only played 23 games for Brescia, scoring three goals. He featured in 10 matches for West Ham and did not score, before being sold at a massive loss to Fiorentina. He did not play a game for them and was farmed out on loan as his career diminished, to Bologna, TSV Munich 1860, Chernomorets Burgas of Bulgaria, Juve Stabia in Italy’s Serie B and Vaslui of Romania. Still only 23, he now plays for SpVgg Unterhaching in Germany’s Liga 3. In case you forgot: 9m.
Value for money: Savio (left) cost West Ham just under 1million an appearance
The day the Hammers came calling was certainly a lucky one for Luigi Corioni, president of Brescia and also, happily, Nani’s ex-father-in-law. Nani was eventually sacked by West Ham with a substantial period left on his contract, but accepted a payment for considerably less. Scott Duxbury, West Ham’s chief executive at the time, is also back with Watford. You’ve got to admit, it’s one hell of a team. But is it any way to run a football club Not really. Lacking independence or long-term direction, Watford has become a snapshot of everything that is wrong with the modern game.
While cracking down on Manchester City’s ability to buy players outright with new investment from beyond football, UEFA have no problem with Watford competing this season with a majority of first-team players that are not their own. For local loyalists the fear will be that manager, owners and the majority of the new charges have never travelled this course or distance.
‘We are all Watford and we are going in the same direction,’ said Zola.
Sadly, for the good of football, we must hope from early indications that this is true.
FA can't have it both ways
The Football Association insists John Terry’s position with England was not untenable.
‘It’s something that happened in a match between Queens Park Rangers and Chelsea,’ said FA general secretary Alex Horne, of Terry’s clash with Anton Ferdinand.
‘That’s a very different process, from my perspective, from our England procedures.’ In which case, why did the FA strip him of the England captaincy At least pretend there is consistency.
And while we're at it…
Had a very good night watching the Chicago White Sox on Monday.
They inhabit a comparatively new stadium, the less evocative of the city’s baseball arenas, the other being Wrigley Field with its ivy-covered outfield wall, home to bitter rivals, the Chicago Cubs.
An autumn chill inspired a trip to the club shop to purchase an extra layer and there, among the two floors of White Sox merchandise, with its upper door leading directly into the stadium, was one large wall dedicated to, incredibly, the Chicago Cubs.
It would be like the Manchester United megastore having a section in which fans could buy the sky blue shirts of Manchester City. Truly, it is a different ball game out here. The home team won, by the way. Go Sox; or Cubs.
In fine form: Laura Robson
Being a chosen one has served Robson well
The focus was on Andy Murray but it would seem the greatest bounce from the Olympic tennis tournament has been felt by Laura Robson.
She has been in the form of her life since London 2012, her confidence boosted — it can be presumed — by Murray’s decision to pick her as his mixed doubles partner over Great Britain’s then No 1 Heather Watson.
Tough on Watson, but it looks as if Murray made the right call. One imagines he knows a player.
One imagines the fly-on-the-wall documentary Being: Liverpool will be available in a DVD box set in time for Christmas.
Judging by the first episode, the manager of the Everton club shop should order about 10,000.