Watford Football Club: An Inept Hierarchy Versus All

The world moves in mysterious ways. The world of football, especially as a Watford supporter, is no exception. A bit over one year ago, Cucho Hernandez cut in on his right foot from the left flank to curl in a wondergoal just seconds into his debut. The sun beat down on the Golden Boys that day. Xisco Munoz was seeing the squad play beautiful football with a firm connection to the fans. After a blistering final stretch in the 2020/21 Championship campaign to secure automatic promotion at the first time of asking, the “feel-good factor” was well and truly back at Vicarage Road. 

Three – sorry, now four (I had to edit this in the process of writing the article) – head coaches and a reportedly sacked, then reinstated, sporting director later, the Hornets sit 10th in the Championship, nine points away from the top of the table after 10 matches. With Ismaila Sarr, Joao Pedro, and Hassane Kamara staying, it seemed as if the Hornets should still have that extra edge in quality. The attack, although far from prolific thus far, have had their fair share of bright sparks. Unfortunately, the midfield and defense have been Watford’s Achilles heel – especially the latter.

The backline is not good enough for the Championship. If Kortney Hause can stay fit, that will provide a huge boost. The other center-backs in what is usually a back three, however, have been frequently letting the team down via cheap loss of possession, laziness in defending, lack of awareness, etc. Watford have been conceding goals that promotion-chasing teams cannot be letting up. Daniel Bachmann has had to bail the defense out on numerous occasions. 

But surely, with all the profits from the transfers of Dennis, Kamara, Hernandez, Samir, and more, there would be some reinvestment in the defense, right? Nope. The cheap, last-ditch route was chosen. Again, Hause on loan is a shrewd signing, though that came out of a lack of other options. The pressing fault Gino Pozzo is at in the transfer window was the signing of Mario Gaspar. When initially signed, the experienced defender sounded like a name that could put in a solid shift. But on the pitch, especially as a wing-back, he does not at all seem like a player recruited for Rob Edwards’ system – not that that system matters anymore. He probably will not work in the new system either. Ethan Laird appeared likely to sign for the Hornets, and letting that deal slip through has already proved costly. Laird has had a stellar start to the season for QPR.

If it was not clearly put: the defensive squad building has been atrocious. And not just recently. It has been since Watford’s initial Premier League promotion under Gino. Kamara, for sure Watford’s best defender, was forced to play in a right-wing-back role for much of the start of the season. If your most valuable defender cannot even be played in his optimal position, the transfer method is reckless. 

In the 2016/17 campaign, Watford’s main not-on-loan center-backs were Sebastian Prodl, Craig Cathcart, Christian Kabasele, Miguel Britos, Younes Kaboul, and Adrian Mariappa. Two years later, in the Club’s second most successful season, the center-back department consisted of Prodl, Cathcart, Kabasele, Mariappa, Britos, and bright young talent Ben Wilmot. It is now the 2022/23 season, after another relegation, and Kabasele and Cathcart still are part of the rotation. Wilmot was transferred away a couple of seasons ago and a new youngster was brought in, but even when the veterans are underperforming, he too does not get a look in. 

Sheffield United splashed the cash to sign Anel Ahmedhodzic, a center-back who would have been perfect for Watford. Pozzo decided to go down the route of one late-window loan signing and just relaxing with who else did not leave. But it is not as if Pozzo did not want to spend any money. 5 million pounds were spent on striker Vakoun Bayo. However, later in the window, Rey Manaj joined for free from Barcelona and Keinan Davis (a very solid signing) joined on loan from Aston Villa. Why would 5 million pounds be spent on Bayo then, when other strikers were being brought in anyway, especially when it seemed like spending any money on fees would be a luxury? The attacking ranks, already with Sarr, Pedro, and Asprilla, seemed as if it would not require as much financial attention as the porous defense. This misallocation of funds all boils down to the agent Mogi Bayat issue, which is a story for another time (and not a good one).

The midfield also raises serious concerns about the approach – if there is one – to the squad building. Bringing in Edo Kayembe in January still does not seem as if it is a move that can reach a positive or negative conclusion. In some matches, he seems off the pace and untidy. Other times, he is the best player on the pitch, spinning around defenders and nearly being a reincarnation of Etienne Capoue for few-minute spells. The lack of consistency is still a concern, and his partnership with on-loan Hamza Choudhury is solid at best. Choudhury does provide a tenacity in defense and offers some relief for the back line, but in terms of attack, neither he nor Kayembe (with the exception of his spontaneous moments of genius) facilitates the best linking from defense to attack. Yaser Asprilla is frequently deployed in the attack midfield role to fill this shortcoming. His contribution to Keinan Davis’s goal against Sunderland is proof of his prodigal capabilities (a friendly reminder that he is 18 years old). 

The combination of Asprilla, Kayembe, and Choudhury, or sometimes Pedro dropping back in place of Asprilla, can work well enough at times. However, the apparent disjoint when trying to build up play from the back makes the team feel as if its attacking and defensive units are different teams altogether. The return of Imran Louza will hopefully solve more issues than one, as he is Watford’s best midfielder by a tremendous margin.

Perhaps the jigsaw of a squad is a byproduct of the defense being awful, but surely there are better midfielders that could have been brought in for cheap. And by “better,” this does not necessarily mean “more talented.” This is meant in terms of “better suited for Rob Edwards’ system.” But, of course, that previous sentence can be deleted. Initially, I thought the sacking was a joke. Yet, as per usual, the joke was the Club, as Watford were never going to properly back their head coach’s system, regardless of Scott Duxbury saying Edwards would be supported “come hell or high water.” Watford gave the “hell and high water” to Edwards and sacked him for it.

It seemed like some progress was going to be made through the removal of sporting director Cristiano Giaretta, but his rumored departure did not come to fruition. Thus, the only notable change made this season has been the removal of Edwards for Slaven Bilic. Admittedly, Bilic is not the worst of appointments, but at the expense of the rebuilding project fans were promised under Edwards is beyond unfair and untimely. 

“We felt Rob had enough time to show us the identity of his team, however performances haven’t reflected our hopes and ambitions,” claimed Pozzo in the sacking statement. This comes after just 10 league matches without the club’s best midfielder, a totally incapable defense with Hause only just being available for proper use, and a relatively young/inexperienced squad (in certain areas – obviously not the defense, though). Also, how does one establish a proper identity after fewer than a dozen matches? The only threat to “identity” at Watford, whenever there is any, is the ownership itself.

There is a reason Granada fans wanted the Pozzo family gone. Udinese fan protests reached levels unimaginable at Vicarage Road/in England before meaningful change was made. And now look at the disparities between the two clubs: the Italian side sit 3rd in Serie A with highly-respected sporting director Pierpaolo Marino having lots of control, while Giampaolo Pozzo sits in the back seat. Meanwhile, the Hornets have a blatant disjoint between ownership and those who actually matter on matchday. Giaretta’s most notable contribution at Watford has come via Instagram (if you know, you unfortunately know), Edwards did not have any transfer backing for his wants, and a return to the top flight is starting to feel like a distant prospect. The Club allowed to have an identity has prospered. Meanwhile, Watford sit as the family’s cash bag as the riches of even one Premier League season trumps the wealth accumulated in the Serie A manyfold. 

If Bilic turns the ship around and steers the Club back to the Premier League at the first time of asking, perhaps Gino will have redeemed himself. But even that is not enough. Watford supporters do need to be realistic, but that is understood: no one is demanding Gino makes Watford a consistent midtable Premier League team. Major silverware is still a dream all supporters have for maybe once in their lifetime, but again, no one is considering that a must. It is not as if fans are looking for Watford to be a powerhouse. They might not even be amongst the 20 biggest clubs in England (it depends on how much weight one puts on recency versus history). Fans just want to feel connected to the Club again. Without any identity, that is impossible to do. Edwards seemed to understand what was needed. He wanted to rebuild a connection with the fans. The brand of football he tried to implement was intense and would be easy to get behind if he did not inherit one of the league’s worst defenses. 

Edwards needed time – probably even more than a season – and that is okay. Success is not always what is most profitable at the moment. But again, immediate profit is what is being sought by the ownership. If Edwards was given multiple seasons to truly rebuild an identity at the Club, once promotion is then achieved, the prospects of a fruitful, longer Premier League stay significantly increase. If all resources are allocated to gunning for automatic promotion this season, that could have detrimental effects. If a Premier League return does not occur, which is starting to seem likely, then the season ends without a head coach, without many new funds, best players agitating to leave, and still, no identity is in place. If Bilic is to achieve promotion with the Hornets, herculean efforts would have to be made in the transfer window – with different approaches required by the ever-stubborn men in charge – to stand a fighting chance at safety. The likelihood is an immediate relegation would occur. And that leads back to square one, and there is still no identity. Just a bit of extra cash in the hierarchy’s pocket in the short term. If Edwards – or some other head coach – were truly backed and it took two or three years for promotion, but the time in the Championship allowed for a system/identity to develop, then the return to the top flight would have better chances at being successful. And regardless, there would then be a proven identity at Watford that could always be relied upon, yielding optimal results both financially and performance-wise. 

If the odds of promotion this season were highly in the Club’s favor if the trigger-happy approach is used (which is the approach once more in action), then an immediate return would admittedly be hard to spurn away. Unfortunately, the truth is that the squad just is not that good. The odds are no more in Watford’s favor this season under Bilic than they were under Edwards, though Edwards for sure had better odds at success in the much longer run if given the time. 

Some Watford supporters will tell you what is discussed here is just the tip of the iceberg with the current ownership. Others will say this is all nonsense and scold me for criticizing the person who saved us from Laurence Bassini. A few people will hopefully think this is spot on. Regardless of opinion, it is undeniable that these are not the best of days under the current regime at Watford. Times used to be much better, and thanks a lot for that, but the time to go – or undergo some miraculous soul change – has come. If the “identity (or lack thereof)” at the Club does not change, then its faces must. 

One thought on “Watford Football Club: An Inept Hierarchy Versus All

  1. Rey Manaj cost £3m. He was not a free transfer. Kalu was £2m and the rumour in France is that he is actually 38yrs old, not 25yrs that he claims. UEFA are said to be looking into the falsified paperwork and this is why he is not playing.

    Bayo and Okoye were both available for €1m (£845,000) each in December2021/January 2022. Yet, somehow we paid £10m for the pair
    Laird was not guaranteed first team football by the Watford hierarchy, so Man Utd pulled out of the deal. Why? Villarreal would only take Kiko Fermina if they could offload Gaspar.

    As you say, the some players are not good enough for the Championship and we have done nothing to change this.

    We are broke. Yes, broke.
    Gino borrowed £15m from Papa with the Kamara sell/loan deal. This was to shore up the day to day running of the club.

    We have two seasons to gain promotion back to the Premier league or find a multi-millionaire buyer.
    Failure to do either will lead to the club going into administration.


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