Departures, Signatures, Returners, and Retention: An Analysis of Watford’s Most Noteworthy Transfer Window in Years

Since promotion in 2015, Watford’s transfer windows have looked the same, with the incomers being more notable than the departures. This window, the roles were reversed – or so it seems. 

Watford had their usual player shuffle with Udinese, as well as lodged interest in some high-quality players. But now, Doucouré is on Everton, Luis Javier Suárez is on European-competing Granada, and Pervis Estupiñan is with Villareal. Most of Watford’s most valuable assets had to be sold, with the financial consequences of the coronavirus compounded by relegation. 

At the same time, Watford made a considerable number of low-cost transfers. Some have said that an unwillingness to splash the cash shows a lack of ambition. The truth is, Watford have done all that is situationally necessary. Between signing the captain of one of the most respected national teams in Africa and bringing in one of Manchester United’s future stars, Watford have had their share of impressive transfers.

Most noteworthy, however, is who did not leave. Étienne Capoue and Ismaïla Sarr were practically considered gone upon the club’s relegation. Troy Deeney and Will Hughes also seemed at great risk of being lost. But now, with both the international and domestic transfer windows closed, Vladimir Ivic now knows exactly who he will be working with until at least January. A squad with so many question marks surrounding it has now been re-solidified. The storm of the transfer market has been weathered. 

Below is an analysis of each and every notable transfer Watford were involved in:

Departures:

Abdoulaye Doucouré: the 27-year-old French midfielder was one of the most integral parts of Watford’s successes the seasons prior to the 2019/20 campaign. Doucouré’s departure was inevitable upon relegation, and even though the roughly 20 million pound fee is 15 million pounds less than what Everton offered in the summer of 2019, the sum is still fair. Between relegation and the implications of the virus, being able to cash in on anyone for such a sum is key toward reestablishing financial stability. Doucouré will be missed at Watford, but he certainly belongs in the top-flight, competing for European football. 

Pervis Estupiñan: there is no sugarcoating the fact that Estupiñan was one of the best left-backs in La Liga last season, and that Watford would be better off with him. Vladimir Ivic stressed the importance of only having players who truly want to be in the fight for promotion. Estupiñan’s head was clearly elsewhere, and going into the last year of his contract, Watford would have to sell him as soon as possible if they wanted to make a profit off of him. And that they did, getting 15 million pounds for his services. Holistically, the substantial fee Watford got from Villareal for a player who never played a competitive minute in England is solid business by the Watford hierarchy.

Luis Javier Suárez: the case of Suárez is very similar to the case of Estupiñan. The exact transfer details for Suárez’s move to Granada is unclear, but an eight-figure profit off of another player who has never played a minute for Watford is yet another piece of shrewd business. Yes, Watford would have been better off with Suárez, but losing players like him is the cost of relegation. But between the sale of Doucouré, Estupiñan, and Suárez, Watford were able to get enough funds to not feel any urge to sell other key members of the squad. 

Gerard Deulofeu: “From 2-0 down, they lead 3-2; he’s got 2 of the 3!” exclaims Martin Tyler, as Deulofeu’s shot trickles past John Ruddy and sends Watford into the FA Cup final. Deulofeu is one of the newest members of Pozzo United, as he is set to spend this season on loan at Udinese. If Watford do get promoted, Deulofeu will likely return to Vicarage Road for the inaugural campaign back in the Premier League. If promotion doesn’t come, however, Deulofeu will inevitably be sold on a permanent basis. The bottom line of this transfer is that Deulofeu’s time at Watford is not up just yet.

Roberto Pereyra: the experienced Argentine has also joined Udinese, albeit on a permanent basis, for an unknown fee. Pereyra joined Watford in the summer of 2016 from Juventus for what was a club-record fee at the time. Despite being an attacking midfielder in Turin, Watford frequently played Pereyra on the left-side of the pitch. He scored some memorable goals for Watford, but never consistently reached the true quality of a Champions League Finalist that fans were expecting. He has a good relationship with Udinese apart from the clubs’ Pozzo connection, as Pereyra was with them prior to his move to Juventus. 

Ignacio Pussetto: the third and final Watford player to have headed to Udinese this summer was unable to find his footing in English football, only managing sporadic appearances off the bench since his arrival in January. The 24-year-old, who is now on loan to his former club, is known for his versatility. He is someone who also could still have a future at Watford, albeit a bit less likely than Deulofeu’s odds of playing for Watford once more. 

Craig Dawson: the 30-year-old center-back was one of Watford’s better performers of Project Restart. However, his efforts were not enough to keep Watford in the Premier League. Throughout the offseason, it was clear he had fallen out of favor with Ivic, as Cathcart, Wilmot, and Kabasele became the three first-choice center-backs. Once William Troost-Ekong arrived, a move away was the only foreseeable way for Dawson to be able to play a decent amount of first team minutes. West Ham have taken the former West Brom player on a loan with an option-to-buy.

Cucho Hernández: one of Watford’s loan-success stories, Cucho has become a strong, solid striker who has been getting looks from some of Europe’s top clubs. Watford would have liked for him to play in the Championship, but loaning him out, and being able to have him in the future, unlike Suárez, could prove to be a wise bit of business. If Watford get promoted, they will have themselves an ever-improving striker who is currently playing for Getafe, one of the better teams in Spain. If Watford fail to get promoted, they are still set to receive a hefty fee for the player’s services.

Danny Welbeck: following Watford’s relegation, Welbeck’s departure felt inevitable. His year at Watford was hampered by injuries, though he did ultimately end up making 18 appearances, one of which included a memorable overhead goal. The former Arsenal and Manchester United player was released by the club, and has since been snapped up by Brighton.

Daryl Janmaat: like Welbeck, Janmaat’s contract was terminated by mutual consent. The former Dutch international joined Watford in the summer of 2016 from Newcastle for a fee of around 7 million pounds. The right-back had become a consistent fixture in Watford’s starting eleven, and was quite consistent in his performances. However, he was only able to play 10 matches in all competitions last season due to a knee injury. He has now recovered, and will likely try and find a suitor in a European top-flight. 

Dimitri Foulquier: the French right-back has been on Watford’s books since 2017, but never found his footing at the club. He was only ever part of Watford’s training/matches between the summer of 2019 and the following winter transfer window. He has frequently impressed while out on loan, so his lack of success at Watford is an oddity. He has now permanently moved to Granada. 

Jose Holebas: one of Watford’s longest serving players, Holebas had joined Watford ahead of their inaugural season in their return to the top-flight in 2015. The Greek left-back was characterized by his fierce intensity with which he always seemed to play. The most concrete evidence of this ferocity is the fact he racked up 40 yellow cards, as well as one red card, in his 114 Premier League appearances for Watford. He did not feature too much in 2015/16, but was an ever-present for the next three seasons, until Adam Masina eventually usurped his role as starter. He has now moved to Olympiacos on a free transfer.

Pontus Dahlberg: Ben Foster is nearing the end of his career, but between Daniel Bachmann and Pontus Dahlberg, Watford’s goalkeeping future seems to be in safe hands. But, having both Bachmann and Dahlberg at the club while neither is starting consistently would potentially halt their development, so Watford elected to send the 21-year-old stopper on loan to Häcken, in his home nation of Sweden. 

Heurelho Gomes: the club legend announced his official retirement from football following Watford’s relegation. Before becoming Ben Foster’s backup in 2018, Gomes was pivotal to so much of Watford’s success, including their promotion in 2015. The first season in the Premier League, Gomes led the league in saves. Watford had taken a risk when signing him from Tottenham, where he had sometimes become a laughing stock from his errors. If people only knew Gomes from his time at Watford, no one would suspect Gomes of being anything but a top-class keeper.

Adalberto Peñaranda: the 23-year-old Venezuelan has been on Watford since 2016, but has only made sporadic cup appearances during the times he has not been out on loan. His future was cast into serious doubt this summer, following explicit videos of Peñaranda being leaked. He will spend the upcoming season on loan with CSKA Sofia in the Bulgarian first tier. 

Jerome Sinclair: big things were expected of Sinclair once he joined Watford from Liverpool in 2016. However, he quickly became a forgotten man that found himself on loan to the lower tiers of English football, and then spent last season with VVV-Venlo in the Netherlands. He is headed to CSKA Sofia as well. Watford’s new sporting director, Cristiano Giaretta, recently arrived from the Bulgarian giants, which explains the two clubs’ unexpected ties. 

Ryan Cassidy: one of Watford’s best youth products in recent memory, the 19-year-old attacker got himself a season-long loan to League One side Accrington Stanley. He is set to receive lots of first team action, which will be crucial for his development.

Incomers:

Jeremy Ngakia: the 19-year-old right-back followed in Domingos Quina’s footsteps, in the sense that both were a part of West Ham’s youth system, but then made the switch to Vicarage Road in search of more consistent first team action. Ngakia was getting increased first team action at West Ham during Project Restart, but that was not enough to keep hold of the young star. To say he is one of the most exciting right-back prospects in all of England would not be an overstatement. The youngster has brilliant defensive acumen, and is a very tricky player to defend against when he attacks down the flank. Signing Ngakia on a free contract was a brilliant piece of business by Watford, and he has so far been the signing-of-the-season.

James Garner: another high profile signing, Garner joined Watford on a season-long loan after winning Manchester United’s U23 Player of the Year award. Some people expected Garner to play an increased role in the Red Devil’s 2020/21 campaign, which shows how talented the 19-year-old is. The main reason for his departure goes down to Manchester United’s signing of Donny Van De Beek from Ajax, which meant Garner would not have received as much playing time as United would have liked. A key talent of Garner’s is his set-piece accuracy, something Watford have lacked for the past few seasons.

William Troost-Ekong: the captain of the Nigerian International Team was an ever-present for Udinese the past couple of seasons. The 27-year-old joins Watford on a permanent basis. His high-percentage passing from the back-line is a strength which Watford has lacked at times. With Ivic fielding three center-back formations, getting Troost-Ekong into the squad was wise for both depth and quality. He would also be able to seriously compete for a starting spot if Watford do get promoted back to the Premier League.

Stipe Perica: like Troost-Ekong, Perica joined from, not unexpectedly, Udinese. The tall 25-year-old center-forward spent last season on loan at Mouscron in Belgium, where he scored 8 goals, and averaged a goal every 122 minutes. He joins on a permanent basis, and will look to compete for the starting center-forward spot. His main strength is his aerial prowess.

Glenn Murray: by far the oldest of Watford’s signings, 37-year-old Glenn Murray joined from Brighton on a season-long loan. He came in to offset what was set to be a Deeney departure. With Deeney staying, however, Murray might find playing time hard to come by. Still, Murray has years of experience in the Championship, and Watford will hope that he does indeed have one more season left in his legs. 

Francisco Sierralta: yet another one of the typical Pozzo transfers, Sierralta came in on a permanent basis to help Watford with defensive depth. The 23-year-old Chilean International Team player can play centrally or on the right. He is still young, so perhaps he will find himself getting considerably more playing time in the future.

Toby Stevenson: the 20-year-old left-back spent much of preseason on trial with Watford following his release from Chartlon Athletic. After impressing, Watford gave him a one-year contract, with the option to extend a further year. With Watford having a relative lack of depth of true left-backs, Stevenson could find himself getting some valuable playing time this season. 

Loan Returnees:

Ken Sema: the Swedish midfielder joined Watford in 2018, but spent last season on loan at, as one would expect, Udinese. His versatility is what makes him such an important part of any squad he is on. He is able to play anywhere on the left side of the pitch, as well as in the center of the midfield. He has been one of Watford’s standout performers so far this season, which has come as a surprise to some. 

Ben Wilmot: the 20-year-old defender joined Watford from Stevenage in 2018 for around 1 million pounds. He spent last season on loan at Swansea City, where he got valuable Championship experience. He made 23 appearances in all competitions for them, until an injury saw him out for the second half of the season. At the time of publication, which is after Watford’s 1-0 victory over Derby County, Wilmot has played every minute in the league, and deservedly so. 

Marc Navarro: the Spanish fullback was rumored to have been seeking a move away from Watford, but was ultimately content with staying after no departure materialized. Like the other two returnees, Navarro joined in the summer of 2018. Navarro has struggled to find first team minutes at Watford, but could find himself enjoying more time on the pitch thanks to the fixture congestion that comes with playing in the second tier. 

Those That Stayed:

Ismaïla Sarr: Watford’s most valuable possession did not ask for a move away, and thus Gino Pozzo was able to stick to his price-tag of 45 million pounds for Sarr. There was serious interest from top clubs such as Liverpool and Manchester United, but both ultimately found alternative options when Watford refused to lower their valuation. Crystal Palace made a deadline-day approach, though their efforts to sign the winger did not cause Watford any trouble or worry, as their proposed fee fell way short of the mark. Sarr has impressed since joining from Rennes for a club-record fee in 2019. The rapid attacker is only 22-years-old, and he could very likely be one of the most pivotal players in Watford’s push for promotion. 

Étienne Capoue: Watford had admitted that Capoue would be moving to another club. Everything was in place for the French midfielder to meet up with former Watford manager Javi Gracia at Valencia. The La Liga giants, however, were unable to provide Gracia with the funds to get Capoue, and the deal fell through. Capoue then rescinded his transfer request and returned to training with Watford. Despite being 32-years-old, Capoue has been one of Watford’s most consistent performers since 2015, and showed no signs of declining in quality last season.

Will Hughes: with Doucouré gone and Capoue presumed to be out, Hughes seemed to be the only player left from the strong Watford midfield-three that had a chance of staying to play in the Championship. There was rumored interest from Tottenham, though a move there never came close to happening. Hughes never agitated for a move out, and the 25-year-old recently returned to training following an operation in the summer. He is one of the players Watford have been looking to build a young-core around, so keeping him will have more than pleased the Pozzos.  

Troy Deeney: on the day Watford were relegated, Deeney admitted his time at Watford could very well be over. Interest from Tottenham soon followed, and even more serious attention to Deeney was given by West Brom. Deeney spent much of preseason and the start of the season apart from the squad in anticipation of a move away. But nothing materialized for him either, and he will be with Watford until at least January. He has captained Watford to promotion once, so the club will not frown upon having him to attempt to do so once again. 

Even though many players departed and arrived, the real victory for Watford in the transfer window was being able to keep hold of many key players, as well as being able to reintegrate players who spent the past season on loan.

Watford certainly have a squad decorated with top-flight caliber players, a squad which on paper, makes the club look like they should be promoted with ease. But in the Championship, what should happen is rarely what truly does. But most importantly, Ivic now knows exactly who he is working with. 

The ship has more than just survived the turbulent transfer window.

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