The Quina Conundrum

In the January transfer window, Watford controversially sent Domingos Quina on loan to Granada CF with the hope that Quina would receive more playing time. Upon the closing of the transfer window, Watford had a mere four senior central midfielders: Will Hughes, Tom Cleverley, Nathaniel Chalobah, and Dan Gosling. Philip Zinckernagel, Ben Wilmot, and Ken Sema can all play in the midfield if necessary. Still, loaning out Quina came as a shock to some – and understandably so.

Quina’s Controversial Loan 

It did not seem like Quina, who made 14 appearances for the Hornets before acquiring a hamstring injury in the middle of December, was surplus to requirements. He started eight times out of 18 available matches under Vladimir Ivic – starting the season in a central-midfield role, but eventually being instructed to play in a less-orthodox left-midfield position. The 21-year-old West Ham youth-product scored in Watford’s 4-1 victory against Preston North End. 

Vladimir Ivic frequently rotated formations, but none called for Quina’s most-effective central-attacking-midfielder role. His creativity was frequently limited by his instruction in the tactics. Ivic’s fondness of James Garner did not help Quina’s case for minutes either. 

When Xisco Munoz came in, Quina was injured. But, come the end of the transfer window, he was near full fitness, while Watford did not have tremendous midfield depth. Indeed, the Hornets’ small-handful of midfield choices are amongst the best in the league (with Hughes being the Championship’s cream of the crop). Even with Dan Gosling coming in to provide necessary depth following Garner’s loan termination, Quina still appeared like an important member of the squad when fully fit. 

Quina was not in line to start every match, but, especially under the Hornets’ newly-preferred 4-3-3 formation, having a player of his talents in the rotation would be ideal. So, when Quina was sent on loan to get more playing time at Granada, many questions were raised.

The Loan Move Makes Sense, But Barely

Granada currently sit ninth in La Liga and just advanced to the Europa League Round of 16. Watford, of course, are competing for promotion back to the top flight. For a youngster such as Quina, it seems more minutes would arrive on a team of Watford’s present status. 

Expecting Quina to receive more minutes on a Europa-League-competing Spanish side is risky. Not that he does not have the talent, for he most certainly does. Simply stated, Granada already had more midfield depth than Watford (also with considerably talented midfielders, the most notable being Yangel Herrera).

Admittedly, training with a competitive La Liga side and obtaining a fair number of minutes will only do a world of good for his development. In the long run, this loan will prove to benefit both him and the Hornets. In Quina’s first start for Granada, he scored a wonder-goal. Further improvement is imminent and already showing. Thus, the conflicts regarding this loan are primarily in the questions, “Why not let him develop in the Championship? If Watford and Granada are offering him similar minutes, is it not better for Watford to keep their player for depth and added quality?”

Championship Is The Perfect Destination To Develop

The average competition in La Liga is of a higher quality than in the Championship. So, Quina going up against larger clubs will allow his technical ability, awareness, and vision to improve. But, those are aspects of his play which he already possesses in sufficient quantities. 

The main phase of Quina’s play that challenged him this season was the physical side of the Championship. If Watford are to return to the Premier League next year, Quina’s La Liga loan will make it so the adjustment back at Vicarage Road is seamless. But, if the Hornets fail to obtain promotion, it might still be hard for him to thrive in the Championship without getting used to the physicality. And, if Watford are promoted and Quina had stayed, the physicality improvement still would have only benefitted him.

Again, the loan to Granada is beneficial in more ways than one. But, keeping him in the Championship, on an individual level, would have helped him in other, arguably more important, aspects of play. The primary talking point when it comes to the loan, however, has to be surrounding Watford’s tactics and rotation.

Midfield Depth Shortage

Even if the loan to Granada is better for Quina’s development than staying would have been, the effects of the temporary departure can still harm Watford in more vital ways in the present. Between Hughes, Chalobah, Cleverley, and Gosling, the Hornets have a strong, in terms of talent and reliability, midfield rotation. But, the rotation is not deep. Against Blackburn, Chalobah needed to be rested, and the Hornets were left with no true midfielders on the bench. In a season with lots of fixture congestion, rest, and even injuries, are inevitable. Health/fitness alone should not be relied upon for Watford to sustainably use a 4-3-3 with true midfielders.

Yes, Wilmot, Sema, and Zinckernagel can play in the midfield if called upon. Nevertheless, having players out of their most natural position is far from optimal – especially for a team charging for the automatic promotion places.

When Quina was loaned out, Xisco was electing to utilize a 4-4-2 formation, so having four central midfielders was barely, but sufficiently, sustainable. With the 4-3-3 proving to be significantly more effective, the Hornets might come to rue loaning Quina out. Having him as a fifth midfielder, providing creativity and attacking threat whenever called upon, would only have been of huge benefit to the Hornets. Rotating the midfield would not be a worry and if multiple players needed to miss a couple of matches, natural positioning in tactics would not be jeopardized. 

Quality Loan – But Unnecessarily Risky

Quina being loaned to Granada shows the tremendous quality the youngster possesses. When he returns to Watford, he will have improved many aspects of his game and will be a huge asset to the Hornets, whatever league that may be in. In the long run, this loan has tremendous positives. But, in the present, the thought that the Hornets would have been better off keeping him cannot be avoided. The risk taken by sacrificing true midfield depth might prove to be a gamble that should not have been made. 

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