Watford announced that they have appointed Vladimir Ivic as their new manager, and tumble weeds rolled about in response. Ivic is not a name many will be familiar with having spent his playing career in Serbia and Greece, with a brief spell at Gladbach in 2004 his only venture into a top five league. As manager, he’s worked in Greece and Israel.
A bit of quick research shows a respectable track record of success in his short managerial career. In just over a year at PAOK he managed to win the Greek Cup and turn around a sleeping giant. PAOK are traditionally one of the four biggest clubs in Greece, third biggest in terms of fanbase, but had not won silverware in the previous 14 years. They have since gone on to retain the cup twice and win the Greek Super League Title in 2019. PAOK were floundering before he took over, he turned them around and they have had great success since. His win ratio was an impressive 59% from 70 games in charge.
He took a one year sabbatical from football before returning to management at Maccabi Tel Aviv, one of the Big Four of Israeli football and found more success. Back to back league titles, only 2 defeats across two league campaigns and a win ratio of 67% from 81 games.
Ivic isn’t a known quantity but he has had success in his career to date and will expect that to continue at Watford. His teams tend to be very strong defensively, his title winners at Maccabi conceded 12 goals in his first season and only 7 in his second.
Putting together a strong team at Watford will take time, in large part because their defensive group needs a massive overhaul. Watford’s last four seasons have seen them ship an average of 64 goals conceded per year in the Premier League. No matter how you look at it, that is awful. You’d wonder how bad it might have been if not for Ben Foster.
Before touching the playing squad though, Watford need a plan. An actual mandate, on who they are, what they want to be and how they’re going to get there. For that to happen, Gino Pozzo needs to reflect on his time in charge and ask himself some questions.
The Pozzo family bought Watford in 2012 and immediately fired Sean Dyche. Dyche has gone on to have great success at Burnley and can rightly claim to be a better manager than anyone who’s worked at Watford since. In the eight years since Dyche, Watford have appointed 12 different permanent managers including Ivic. 12 managers in eight years. None managed more than 66 games in charge.
That type of instability only leads to one thing for a club like Watford, relegation.
What Watford need more than anything moving forward is clarity and stability. They need to be committed to Ivic and his vision for the club.
The other part of the plan should ideally involve building around some of the outstanding young talents already on their books. Watford have access to a fantastic scouting network, set up by the Pozzo family in the 90s as part of their efforts to turn Udinese into a talent factory.
A quick look at their squad and the five names that jump out are Ismaila Sarr, Joao Pedro, Pervis Estupinan, Cucho Hernandez and Domingos Quina. Not because they are exotic names not normal found in a place like Watford, but because they are very talented young players that Watford can build around in their efforts to get back to the top flight.
Sarr has made it clear that he’s happy to stay and play in the Championship, and Watford should take him up on that. They may well have scared off perspective buyers with their £40million asking price but even that might be selling low on a player of his talent.
Joao Pedro arrived from Brazil in January and his movement and finishing ability could see him have great success in Championship, especially if Sarr is providing quality service from the right wing.
Assuming Ivic plays a 4-3-3 which has been his most used formation as a manager, though it should be noted he has played a back 3 and a 4-2-3-1 frequently as well, the third spot in the attack should become the property of Cucho Hernandez in January. He has been loaned Getafe for the year but he becomes eligible for a UK work permit in January and Watford have including a recall clause should he be granted his work permit. He can play centrally or from the left and will bring goals, movement and cutting edge to the team.
Sarr-Joao Pedro-Cucho as a front three is a really nice starting point for Ivic, especially with another talent like Adalberto Penaranda in reserve and potentially Luis Suarez, not THAT Luis Suarez, as well. That’s five young attackers that Watford can build with.
It seems like a sure thing that Gerard Deulofeu will leave this summer. He’s on wages that won’t be sustainable in the Championship and likely won’t be overly happy with the prospect of a year in the second tier ahead of next summers Euro’s. He sale would represent a good chunk of money that Watford could probably do with post-relegation and mid-pandemic.
Though Troy Deeney has been a great servant to the club, it’s likely time to say goodbye and wish him well as he embarks on the final phase of his career.
There are questions to be asked about Andre Gray, Isaac Success, Jerome Sinclair and in particular Ignacio Pussetto. Pussetto only arrived in January for around £7million from Udinese but given Watford’s needs at the time, it seemed a strange buy. He is talented, and could be worth giving a chance to, especially while Cucho is out on loan. Watford should avoid to urge to buy attackers this summer, unless a player like Sarr or Joao Pedro becomes available at the right price.
In midfield, Quina could be the creator to shape the bullets for the perspective front three to fire. A very talented playmaker he has been massively under-utilized by Watford since his arrival from West Ham. He’d need workers with him in midfield but that shouldn’t be a problem.
Will Hughes and Nathaniel Chalobah will likely stay and both are good players if they can remain fit. Tom Dele-Bashiru has just completed year one of a six year contract so it’s safe to believe he’ll stick around as well. Etienne Capoue has become a hugely important player at the club since joining from Spurs. He has two years remaining on his contract and if Watford can convince him to stay, he will help them massively in their bid to bounce back up.
It’s hard to imagine Abdoulaye Doucoure wanting to play in the Championship, and he is now a prime example of why development clubs like Watford need to learn when to sell players rather than hanging on to them in the hope of continued valuation growth. Bournemouth contributed massively to their own downfall by failing to sell players when their value peaked, Watford have done it with Doucoure. Now is the time to sell, and reinvest the money.
Roberto Pererya seems another who’s likely to leave, he’s never fully shown his true potential in English football but could fetch a solid sum.
A departure or two here, a signing or two there and Watford will have a very strong midfield unit to go with a really exciting attack.
The defense is the area in need of the most help but they may already have their full back positions sorted.
Jeremy Ngakia showed enough promise during his brief spell in West Ham’s first team last year to suggest he could become a real player. Watford have snapped him up on a free this summer and he might lock down that position for a number of years. Kiko Femenia is the incumbent, and a good player, but Watford might prefer to sell him rather than carry his salary into the Championship. It’s no bad thing if he stays though, they’d have two good options and could rid themselves of Daryl Janmaat and his hefty wage.
On the left, Adam Masina is a quality player who’s too good for the Championship and represents another opportunity to bring money into the coffers. Selling him would clear the way for Watford to finally use Pervis Estupinan four years after signing him.
After 4 years on loan, the last of which saw him perform as one of the best left backs in La Liga at the age of 22, Estupinan is absolutely ready for English football and could be a really exciting addition for Watford. Watford will get offers but it would be in their best interests to hold on to him for another couple of years and continue to develop him and grow his value.
Watford have already said goodbye to Jose Holebas, and should look to do the same to at least two of the Dawson, Mariappa, Cathcart, Kabasele central defensive group that has been the worst in the Premier League for a number of years. The remaining one or two, plus the returning Ben Wilmot, should ideally be joined by two new centrebacks this summer.
Ben Foster might want to leave, and if he does Watford should facilitate a move. They owe him that after fantastic service. Ideally though, he would stay and be joined by a young, future first choice keeper and Daniel Bachmann who’s a steady third choice option.
It’s not a massive tear down and rebuild, a lot of it is recycling pieces and parts already owned by Watford. The five players mentioned earlier; Sarr, Joao Pedro, Cucho, Quina and Estupinan are all hugely talented and could lead the charge on this. It’s time for Watford to start reaping the rewards of their excellent scouting.
While they failed to sell at the right time on Doucoure, they’ve also been guilty of selling too early. Dode Lukebakio being the prime example. It’s all part of the lack of a plan, lack of a secure manager and a club mandate.
If Watford can simplify things, and look to within their own ranks this summer. If they can avoid the urge to have a firesale, they could genuinely bounce back in year one. Sarr and Estupinan will still have highly values next summer if they don’t get promoted, Aston Villa have seen the way Jack Grealish and his market value have skyrocketed after a few seasons in the Championship followed by promotion.
They have a new manager, they should let him build a new team. Assure him he has multiple seasons to make it work and stick to your word. Come back to the Premier League with a dynamic, exciting young team capable of continued development, rather than an old stodgy patchwork quilt.
Keep scouting and recruiting these exceptional young footballers. Find the next Estupinan, the next Sarr, or the next Richarlison. Develop them alongside the current crop, don’t just wait until they current ones have been sold.
Watford are a business. Businesses exist to make the maximum amount of money possible. For Watford to do that, they need to build around their own existing elite talents. With their access to elite scouting, and their developmental set up, Watford have a chance to far outdo other English clubs of their size in terms of both performance, and income. Just don’t overthink it.