The warping of mindset as a fandom makes the leap into the Premier League is inescapable.
We saw it last time around: the good will to all men that accompanies a rollocking good Championship season becomes arrogance, expectation and a Shakespearean mistrust of fellow supporters when confronted with the glamourous outlook of trips to Aston Villa and Sunderland.
It’s all too easy to blame it on ‘new fans’, those who rock up to see whichever travelling band of superstars has rolled into town this week, and take the opportunity to splutter some abuse about the club from provincial Hertfordshire who can’t quite keep up with them, but it’s a change that I think takes us all to some degree. With promotion comes an inflated sense of self-worth, and that can only be punctured as the realities of improved competition set in, with all the accompanying fallout poisoning all around.
At the moment, of course, we’re still at the first step of the programme. We (almost) beat all comers last season, we know best.
So when a Norwich fan (playoffs?! The equivalent of turning up to a posh club with trainers on) posted this blog concluding that not signing any players isn’t really so bad for them, it was leapt on by the baying crowds.
There are things to contend in there: the suggestion that ‘both the other promoted teams would be happy to be signing any member of our first team squads’ (I think I’ll give Gary Hooper a miss this time, thanks) and the fact that the writer happily admits to talking to his friend on the phone in 2015 are both laughable, but he makes one salient point, ‘getting the right players in is as important as just signing players’.
Which is not to say that the players we’ve got in aren’t high calibre sorts. And they may well be better than what we already had, but that isn’t always the most important thing in building a team.
Look at that video of the players celebrating promotion. That was 90 minutes of football ago. There’s Troy, front and centre, obviously, but those beaming faces around him: Tommie Hoban, Gianni Munari, Ben Watson, Miguel Layun, even Gabrielle Angella – how much will we see of them this year (not including the already departed Munari)?
Daniel Tozser has been jettisoned, surplus to requirements a few months after being the first name on the teamsheet, Fernando Forestieri, the clown prince of Watford, is on the cusp of following him, and you can forget about seeing Lloyd Doyley in the league this season, barring all but a bad case of the bubonic plague hitting London Colney.
There’s even a chance that Almen Abdi, quite possibly the best player ever to play for Watford, won’t be first choice come the opener against Everton.
It would have been suicidal to rely on the squad that got us up to keep us there – we don’t want to be Burnley – but with a sheer number of additions, some of the most popular players on that lovely team will struggle to make it into the 25-man squad.
This is annoying most of all on a romantic level – after going through the wonderful period of a hard-fought and well-deserved promotion, why would you want to sample the fruits of the achievement with a bunch of blokes you’ve just yanked off the EasyJet?
We had a better side than Bournemouth (don’t @ me) and Norwich already, and with some of the Premier League clubs that seem to fight to be the most dysfunctional still knocking about, staving off relegation – our only aim this year – didn’t need an entire overhaul.
So would you prefer to see your own Tommie Hoban giving it a go, or Miguel Britos?
Throughout the Pozzos’ reign, we’ve been told by outsiders that the club we loved was gone, that we’d just become a halfway home for foreign investments looking to make a big move. We know it’s bollocks, as the town centre celebrations after recent seasons have shown. Despite the personnel turmoil, we have kept, and even grown, our identity as a club that pulls in the same direction and shares a connection between players and fans.
But transfer windows like this put that at risk. Angella, a prodigious centre back from Serie A, might overload his Instagram with photos of St Albans and inane hashtags, but will Britos, who’s seen the lights from the peak of Mount Vesuvius, deign to take the same interest in his community, or will he just disappear into St John’s Wood, only peeking above his stately parapet for matchdays?
Daniel Toszer, only ever a loanee remember, popped bottles by the pond after promotion. Put Valon Behrami in the same position, and will he just be disappearing to Mahiki to party with his entourage?
I know this is all part of growing up, but do we have to do it so fast? Can’t we grab a few cans and enjoy them in the park rather than rushing to pull all-nighters at Egg (that’s the last London club reference)?
And anyway, what’s to say it works?
With good reason, Watford fans have built up an untouchable trust in the Pozzo family. They came with a track record, and have built upon it with excellent work both in the front and the back. A few thousand fans will spend every other weekend in a brand new stand watching international stars play in yellow.
But they aren’t infallible. If Jesus lost his shit at a fig tree, then Gino can make a duff signing or two.
In fact, he (or his family) has. They paid just under £2 million for Neuton, and another seven figures for Diego Fabbrini. Granted they had (ultimately unrealised) potential, and weren’t pushing thirty with a bunch of international caps to their names like most of our new faces, but the result could be the same – some players just don’t fit in English football.
Luckily, we now have a built-in contingency plan. If some of these players don’t work, they can be in Udine or Granada by sundown, with no financial skin off our nose.
So gone are the days when we could spend our entire budget on Nathan Ellington and have it hang over us, and him, for nigh-on a decade. We’ve spent around £5 million on two different players this window (with god knows how many background fees for others), and it’s just a side note. Etienne Capoue and Steven Berghuis aren’t going to have to fight to live up to their price tag, only their billing. Our familial wealth means that we can experiment, without getting worked up about how much we’re spending.
But all the time we’re experimenting, that close-knit group that Slavisa Jokanovic developed last season is disappearing, and we might not be able to get it back.
The number one reason that gets promoted clubs relegated immediately is a lack of goals. In 2006, injury to Marlon King left us with Darius Henderson (three goals in 35 games) as our only proper striker.
This year we have three of them in Deeney, Vydra and Ighalo, but will be heavily reliant, once again on the former to score the goals to take us to where we want to be.
Over the past few years, he has grown in his role as leader, and thrives off being the focal point of the changing room.
I recently read a theory that there are two types of leader: thermometers and thermostats. Thermometers read the temperature of the room and act accordingly. Thermostats on the other hand dictate the temperature. Troy is a textbook definition of the latter: no matter who has walked in the door over the last three seasons, they have instantly known where they stand in the grand scheme of things. That’s not to belittle them, but to put them in no doubt that they are part of a team with defined squad goals.
Now, as the club attracts a more experienced calibre of foreign star, that might be harder to do. How would Troy react to no longer being the undisputed big man on campus, especially when already trying to play a lone striker role than doesn’t particularly suit his game?
Everything, of course, might be great. We’ve signed some good players and some excellent YouTube videos. My issue is not with them – they might be wonderful guys who submit to Troy’s shoe reviews with gusto – but with their anointment as the men who will make the media and Bournemouth fans see what they’re missing.
I, like many of us, have only seen a few games featuring any of our new boys, and even then won’t have been watching out to see how Roma’s left back did or what the guy on the wing for AZ Alkmaar was like, and all I would like is a more patient approach to their quality.
Some fans seem to have gone mad with power. They are scouring their FIFA Ultimate Teams and demanding more, more, more.
Well, I think we were just fine as we were. We just needed a new right back.