Hope, despair, jubilation; these are just a sample of the range of emotions associated with Championship promotion chasers. The long, arduous season provides a whirlwind of up and downs, which culminates with the ultimate prize of Premier League football, or the demoralising prospect of another seasons outside of the top flight. Many promoted sides in recent years encountered the plethora of emotions as the result of on field drama, but fans of Watford were brutally tortured with additional off the field issues, and in a period of 37 days, saw their club have 4 different managers at the helm. When the man to lead the club forward was finally settled upon, the Hornet’s reaped the rewards, and former Serbian international, Slaviša Jokanović, led the club on a remarkable run of results which saw them finish second in the table, thus earning an escape route from the league that had ensnared them since 2007. Despite the achievement, the manager was only tied to the club on a year by year basis, and when Jokanović felt the board undervalued him with an unacceptable contract offer, the two parted ways, and the man who had been hailed a hero became the latest of a long line of Watford managerial casualties. With the Serb gone, how would the board find a suitable replacement that would appease the fans infuriated by the departure of their long awaited saviour?
The decision was made to bring in former Real Madrid full-back, Quique Sanchez Flores, who since his foray into management had occupied the hot seat at a number of respectable clubs, including Spanish giants, Atletico Madrid. The board felt a big name was required to lead the side into another era of sustained Premier League football, and the appointment of Flores was sure to set pulses racing at Vicarage Road. Having been appointed at the start of June, Flores walked into a side too good for the Championship, but lacking the quality and depth to maintain a place in the top flight for a number of years to come. That said, the club were not without talent, with forward pairing, Troy Deeney and Odion Ighalo smashing an incredible 42 league goals between them in the promotion winning campaign; form they would surely carry into the new year. Flores accepted the job knowing that much was to be done, and his new side would need to strengthen if they were to compete against the best sides in English football. A number of signings have been made, but has the Spaniard done enough so far to suggest his side can compete, and cope with the demands of top flight football? Here we take a look at the Hornet’s summer transfer business, and wherever the new signings will provide the impetus to not only keep Watford’s heads above water, but perhaps to become this seasons Premier League surprise package.
It may come as some surprise that Watford’s best piece of transfer business was achieved without the opening of a chequebook. Top scorer, and captain, Troy Deeney, established a reputation as one of the hottest talents in the football league following a 2010 move from West Midlands side, Walsall. Linked with a host of Premier League clubs, Deeney was deadly in front of goal last season, and the partnership he developed with the aforementioned Ighalo proved phenomenal. Nearing the end of July, Flores seems to have done enough to keep hold of his most prized possession, and although a lot can happen between now and September 1st, it would seem that Watford’s deadly duo will be leading the Hornet’s attack for the foreseeable future. Although an obvious gap exists, the quality between the top sides of the Championship and those at the bottom of the Premier League is not as vast as many may think, and a 42 goal Championship strike partnership would be expected to manage at least half the total mustered last time out. Goal scorers are not easily replaced, and vast sums are required to even attempt such a feat. Flores has saved a great deal of money in the transfer market by convincing the pair that their future lies at Vicarage Road, and the firepower of the duo may prove to be the defining factor that keeps Watford in the Premier League.
Flores is no fool, and realises that the foundation for his side maintaining their top flight status lies at the back, and investment in the quality and depth of his defensive options has been a distinctive theme of the summer transfer market. The Hornets conceded 50 goals last season, which at just over a goal per game is not a bad return, with the side boasting the fourth best defensive record in the division. Yet when faced with the attacking threats the likes of Eden Hazard, Wayne Rooney and Alexis Sanchez have to offer, Watford’s backline will come up against unprecedented dangers, which a Championship level back four would struggle to acclimatise to dealing with. With this in mind, the manager has brought in a wealth of experience in an attempt to bring his side up to scratch. Sebastian Prödl arrived as a free agent after a 7 year spell with Bundesliga side, Werder Bremen, where the player picked up silverware during a successful stint with the club. At 28 years of age, the centre-half is at the peak of his career, and Flores feels that the player has done enough to be given a chance in English football. Although his former side flirted with relegation last season, the Austrian guided the Germans to safety, and perhaps the experience convinced the Watford manager to bring the player to the club, as the Hornets may find themselves in similar circumstances come May of next year. Another player accustomed to the heart of the defence brought to the club this season is Napoli’s Miguel Britos. Since a move from his homeland to Italy in 2008, Britos has flourished, and after switching to the Naples side from Bologna, the Uruguayan has gone on to lift the Coppa Italia on two occasions, and represent his side in European competition. Combining the winning mentality of Britos, with the grit and determination of Prödl, could prove to be a winning formula for Flores’ side, and with one of last season’s stand out performers, Craig Cathcart, vying for a chance to prove himself alongside football’s elite, competition for places will be fierce, and reputation alone will not be enough secure the new signings a place in the starting eleven. It will be interesting to see which pairing will take the field at Goodison Park in the opening fixture of the new season, and although Cathcart has been at the club the longest, he is not the new manager’s man, and may find himself playing second fiddle to the new additions.
Additions at centre-half have been complemented by new faces either side of the middle two, with World Cup 2014 stars, Allan Nyom and Jose Holebas, added to the squad. Some may question the use of the word ‘star’ to describe the duo, but any player to feature at football’s defining tournament surely deserves the tag? Nyom was acquired through the Hornet’s relationship with Italian side, Udinese, who are owned by the same Pozzo family in possession of Watford, and this will be the full-back’s first foray into English football. Although officially owned by Udinese, the Cameroonian never made a competitive appearance for the Italians, instead spending the whole period on loan at Spanish side, Granada, another team of the Pozzo empire. The full-back made a total of 210 appearances during his spell in the South of Spain, yet despite earning a reputation as a player with a tendency to get the ball into the box, only registered 5 assists in La Liga since 2011. Whether this statistic is a result of the players effectiveness of crossing, or the finishing capabilities of his team mates is open to debate, but if Nyom does enough to suggest that he can deliver a telling ball, Watford fans may be rest assured that their deadly striking duo with capatalise. Nyom has a lot to prove, and after a relatively modest career in Granada, many will question whether the player has what it takes to succeed in the Premier League. On the opposite flank is a player who didn’t sign his first professional contract until the age of 23, yet has gone on to make 27 international appearances, and spent last season at Serie A runners up, Roma, where he made 33 outings, including 5 in the Champions League. In a Roma side dotted with stars, Holebas did well to hold down a starting spot, and the Greek will be expecting the same with his new side. Although not the greatest going forward, Holebas brings a wealth of defensive attributes to the Watford back line, and his experience at the highest level may prove pivotal in the clubs push for a second season in the Premier League.
Flores has undoubtedly looked to add experience to his new club over the off season, and the addition of the aforementioned defensive reinforcements will greatly improve Watford’s chances of Premier League survival. Whether it will be enough to see the club over the line remains open to discussion, but if the imports can quickly acclimatise to the demands of English football, then Watford stand an excellent chance of survival, and in comparison to a number of their relegation rivals, the Hertfordshire club boast a far superior defensive quartet. Despite this, a side cannot maintain their Premier League status without strengthening other aspects of the squad, and due to Flores bountiful transfer policy this summer, the second half of Watford’s summer dealings will be looked at in a second article to be released early next week, and will include the surprise signing of Tottenham reject, Etienne Capoue, and exciting Spaniard, Jose Manuel Jurado.