When Watford achieved promotion in 2015, the summer transfer window saw them bring in upwards of 15 players to bolster the Club’s prospects of safety. The clear-out-and-replace approach is often risky, with a recent example of the method backfiring being provided by 2018/19 Fulham, who spent in the region of £100 million on new players just to ultimately be relegated. For the Watford of six years ago, the strategy worked. The Hornets have been similarly busy thus far in this transfer window, though this time, the focus is perfectly balanced between both the present and the distant future. With nine new names already through the door for the first team, and a handful of others destined for time with the youth ranks, now is the opportune time to analyze each senior-squad arrival before Watford have to offload names from their books.
Kwadwo Baah: 18-year-old Baah signed for Watford following an impressive campaign with Rochdale. The versatile attacker – who primarily lined up as an inverted left-winger – scored three goals and provided two assists in 30 League One appearances, averaging one goal contribution per 270 minutes. The youngster nearly moved to Manchester City in January until complications at the final stage of the transfer made the deal fall through. Considering other top clubs were vying for his signature, such as Bayern Munich and Juventus, bringing him in was wise business. Whether he will make an instant impact remains to be seen. The most likely scenario is he is loaned to a top-half League One or Championship side to further his development. Regardless of what league Watford find themselves in in the future, Baah is a player who will provide a significant talent boost when he is first-team ready.
Mattie Pollock: like Baah, Pollock’s arrival occurs with an eye on the distant future. Watford do not want to be left without a firm foundation if relegation occurs again. Pollock, a consistent starter for League Two Grimsby Town (when fit) last season and one of the fourth-tier’s best aerial defenders, may also only have a minimal impact at Vicarage Road this upcoming season. The 19-year-old will likely go on loan to a similar calibre side as Baah. With Ben Wilmot going to Stoke City, Pollock may be viewed as his long-term replacement. There is a chance Pollock stays for the next campaign despite limited minutes, however, as the Hornets currently only have four other senior center-backs.
Imran Louza: currently Watford’s most expensive signing of the summer by a considerable margin (costing around £8.5 million), the expectations for one of FC Nantes’ many phenomenal midfield products are high. The left-footed midfielder will likely occupy the advanced-left-midfield position if Xisco Munoz is to utilize the 4-1-4-1 variation of the 4-3-3 as he did with success in the final stretch of the recent promotion campaign. Louza has a good eye for goal while more notably being excellent at playing between the lines and transitioning defensive phases of play into attacking phases. The already-talented 22-year-old will only continue to improve and could very well be sold on for tremendous profit by Watford sometime in the future; that is the potential and ability Louza possesses.
Ashley Fletcher: the former Manchester United youth player joined Watford in a free transfer after his time with Middlesbrough concluded. His career has been stop-start, thanks to both injuries and poor patches of form. He was once amongst some of England’s most highly-rated attacking youngsters, earning an England U20 appearance. The high expectations were not met for the most part, though 20 goal contributions across all competitions in the 2019/20 season for Middlesbrough suggest Fletcher still has lots to offer if form is found. Averaging one goal contribution per 167 minutes over the past two campaigns, Fletcher will freshen up the Hornets’ attacking depth, albeit considerable starting minutes do not seem in the cards barring any significant, unexpected turn of events.
Danny Rose: When Jose Mourinho iced out Luke Shaw at Manchester United, many people thought Shaw was to blame for poor form and his frequent expulsion from the squad. When Mourinho and Shaw went different paths, Shaw proved to be one of the best left-backs in the world. Watford fans will be hoping Rose’s detachment from Mourinho will bring about a similar change in fortunes. Before Mourinho’s arrival at Tottenham, Rose was widely accepted as one of the league’s best left-backs, earning spots in both the 2015/16 and 2016/17 PFA Premier League Team of the Seasons. Rose’s absence from first-team football for over 12 months mixed with competition from Adam Masina means starting minutes are not guaranteed. However, signing Rose in a free transfer is a low-risk, high-reward deal, guaranteeing both left-back depth and starting competition. If Rose gets back to anywhere near his best, Xisco will have a player who perfectly embodies the overlap-looking, inch-perfect cross-delivering fullback his attacking tactics call for.
Emmanuel Dennis: most transfers occur after at least a few rumours have swirled about the player joining. Dennis is a rare anomaly in the sense that few, and perhaps zero, Watford fans had any idea he was under consideration by the Club until the moment he was announced. The 23-year-old, who scored a brace for Club Brugge at the Santiago Bernabeu, will provide firm starting competition for both the left-wing and center-forward spots. Following a nine-goal, two-assist campaign in 2019/20, the Belgian side rejected a £15 million bid from Arsenal for his signature. His 12-goal, five-assist 2017/18 season suggests Dennis has what it takes to be a threatening goal-scorer at the top level with the right attitude. Considering his age and cut-rate transfer fee (between £3-4 million), the Hornets were wise to bring in the attacking talent whose rapid pace can perfectly compliment Ismaila Sarr’s in scintillating counterattacks.
Dapo Mebude: the 19-year-old Scottish attacker’s signature falls under the same category as Pollock’s and Baah’s. The Hornets truly are forming a talented youth core to step in soon if relegation occurs or later on down the line if this return to the Premier League is prolonged. Mebude made his Rangers’ debut in the May of 2019. He spent a portion of last season on loan with Queen of the South FC in the Scottish second tier, scoring two goals in 11 appearances. A loan move for Mebude would be optimal for the upcoming campaign, though it would not be a shock if the coaching staff decided to have him play matches with the Watford youth ranks and train with the first team before making a better-informed decision in January.
Peter Etebo: the Super Eagles player joins Watford on loan from Stoke City. However, just because he is coming from a Championship side, that does not mean he is not top-flight quality. In fact, the energetic midfielder, who is highly rated by many Stoke supporters, will likely be in the starting conversation for the Hornets next season. The versatile 25-year-old performed admirably well for Galatasaray last campaign, showing similar form to what he showed in the 2018 World Cup which put him on many clubs’ radars. Besides, as he is only on loan, the transfer was perfect for not spending unnecessary funds but still bringing in a wanted – and perhaps needed depending on the progress of Chalobah and Hughes’ respective contract negotiations – midfielder capable of filling multiple roles.
Joshua King: Sarr was the only Hornet with double-digit goals last season. Joao Pedro’s nine goals were impressive for a 19-year-old, though his so-so run of form at the end of the campaign provided a reminder the Hornets need to add more central-attacking threat to maximize chances at survival. Even with Cucho Hernandez returning from loan and set to finally get a chance at Vicarage Road, the hierarchy knows a guarantee of goals is needed, rather than just riskier gambles. King, a proven Premier League goal-scorer who is still 29-years-old, arrives as a free agent. He scored double-digit goals in the 2016/17 and 2018/19 seasons for Bournemouth, and he still contributed an impressive number in the Cherries’ three other Premier League seasons pre-relegation. Despite spending the second half of last season on Everton’s bench, King’s goal-scoring talents are widely known. The low-risk nature of the free transfer for the proven goal-scorer who will provide immediate starting competition makes King’s arrival another piece of shrewd business. King will not be the player to surprisingly score 20, though if played with consistency, he will certainly flirt with double digits.
Many more pieces need to be moved in the summer transfer window for Watford. Even though the wave of arrivals means departures are inevitable, the Hornets will still be looking for players who will improve the squad for the right price. Two things are for certain regardless of what occurs between now and deadline day: 1) Watford’s squad has more depth, especially in the attack, than they did in their last Premier League campaign where a false sense of security in squad depth led to catastrophe when any first-choice player was injured and 2) the Hornets are preparing for a bright, sustainable future, one which can be achieved regardless of future tier.