Too Many Man – Has Summer Recruitment Gone Too Far?

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.

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7 comments

  1. Chris Conway · · Reply

    Very good article Ed. we clearly needed to strengthen the team and have a robust 25 man squad for the prem and can only applaud the investment undertaken by the Pozzo’s. The spine of last year’s team all have new contracts which is great and I would hope that they will remain the spine. I am concerned about the potential loss of a player with immense potential like Tommy Hoban which would be symptomatic of not giving young blood a chance in the prem.( although Mr Stones does not seem to have done too badly) However my main concern is that we play to the strengths of our players and don’t waste the talents of Vydra on the wing or Troy as a lone striker. At the end of the day I suspect that it is more a case of hearts ruling heads and there is not much room for sentimentality if we are going to give the prem a real go. I believe that we have to trust all of those involved in the club and enjoy the ride which was no more than a pipe dream a few years ago.

  2. Petsoundsnick · · Reply

    The difference is you have a, dare I say, sentimental view of how you’d like your football club to be run. The Pozzo’s have been doing this for almost 30 years and are successful because they are, to a degree, ruthless. Above all they need Watford to be in the Premier League next season so they get access to the ridiculous TV deal. As such, they have realised that a good number of players who were first choice last season will be a squad player next season and have acted accordingly. The other option is that they only sign the right back you asked for and then after three games with the old team and 0 points collected the crowd start going crazy criticising the team because they are not good enough. So given your view or the Pozzo’s, id take the Pozzo’s every time. Why? Because I want my team to be as successful as it possibly can be. Success does lead to casualties. I loved Toszer, but who knows what he was demanding in terms of wages to stay. His contract with parma was over and I bet they were picking up a % of his wages last season. Maybe he was offered a new deal but turned it down? Like Bond did. Forestieri will need to be consistent if he is to play, in the Premier League you cannot carry a player like you can in the Championship. As for Doyley, I don’t want to see him playing in the Premier League. If he does, it means we are going down! Munari, Motta were on loan for the season (or part the season), came in, did a good job and now we move on. That is the business / reality of football. So all the players who got us up will go down in folklaw but that doesn’t give anyone a divine right to expect to play in the higher division. Finally I think you’ll be surprised who makes the step up this season. Not all the signings will work and some of the existing players will do better than is perhaps expected. So in conclusion, no we did not just need a new right back. We needed the investment that has been made so the overall squad is so much better. Which it is. For the first time since the mid-1980s we have a team that might actually do well and thrive in the Premier League and for me, that is how I want my football club to be run.

  3. Iain Jordan · · Reply

    Interesting article with some good points, I think we all worry about the ability to make the team gel.

    However, we definitely needed reinforcing. Even having got used to a Pozzo typical transfer window, I’m surprised by the number that have come in, but its not with any benefit of hindsight that many of us talked about the need for two new fullbacks, a centre half and a quality defensive midfielder. To be successful in the Premier League we were always going to need to tighten up massively.

    Perhaps the only area of the squad I have been surprised by the number of signings and wonder how they will fit in, is in the attacking midfielder department, especially if that number is increased further with the addition of Lex Immers.

    The gap between the top two divisions in this country is vast and I think we would be kidding ourselves if we thought last season’s squad could bridge it. Although there’s no doubt that Jokanovic improved it, we still had an all too evident fragility, perhaps naivity, one that would be exposed massively by some of next seasons opponents. Look at how we lost the league!

    I am pleased the Pozzo’s have signed some experienced internationals ‘pushing thirty’. For your journeyman looking for a sizeable last paycheck or shop window, meet my experienced, gnarly pro with a few items left to strike off on his to do list.

    The hardest thing about change is the ability to manage it successfully but to not change at all certainly isn’t the answer. You’re absolutely right in saying that the bigger the player the larger the personality and Deeney’s ability to bring the squad together and continue to provide the focal point and leadership to team spirit and harmony will be tested, but that man is growing too and having seen what he has achieved in recent seasons, I’m not going to start doubting him now!

    We can almost certainly guarantee that not every player will prove to be a hit. I’m sure next season will be as tough as we all imagined it might be before we even secured promotion, but I’m confident we will go into it well prepared and with the ability to give it a great fight. The question for me is, how quickly can Flores get the team to gel, how long will it take for these new players to bed in? I personally believe we are in a far stronger position in this scenario than had we just added one or two to last years squad and were left to wonder whether they are good enough.

  4. Having lived through the misery of the last two Premier League promotions, when we had no choice but to largely stick with the players who got us there, I suspect that your sentimental view of the situation would have dissipated pretty quickly if we’d not significantly strengthened this summer and spent the coming season being beaten week in week out with little or no hope of respite.

    Lest we forgot, many of the players who you’re pining for were themselves being viewed as mercenaries two or three years ago; in the same way, it’s pretty disrespectful to the likes of Britos or Behrami to suggest similar at this stage – maybe give them a chance first?

    In the war of public opinion the Pozzos simply can’t win – they’re being criticised by some for strengthening for the significant challenge ahead, and would have been similarly pilloried by a different section of our support for not strengthening. Having scrutinised their track record, and seen how they’ve conducted themselves as our owners so far, I think they’ve probably earned themselves some slack, don’t you?

    And if you think that all we really needed for the coming season was a new right back then you weren’t paying much attention to our defending last season….

    😉

  5. “Well, I think we were just fine as we were. We just needed a new right back.”

    You’re joking right? The only area of our team anywhere near PL quality was our attack and our keeper. The Pozzos have done this before so they know what they’re doing

  6. I suspect that that signing-off comment about just needing a right-back was intended to be provocative, in which case it worked! If Joker had stayed, I reckon we would have needed at least two new wing-backs, another central defender and a defensive midfielder. With the new man’s preferred formation, we needed proper attacking full-backs (who will move forward from further back than wing-backs and so will need more pace and energy), an additional defensive midfielder to cover the backs when they go forward, but no additional centre-back unless the newcomer is significantly better than what we’ve got (we need one fewer in total than with three-at-the-back). A winger who can cross would also have been handy.

    But ten newcomers, with possibly more to come? I believe it was Arsene Wenger who said that Spurs bringing in six players with the Bale money had been too many and had upset the balance of the squad. Upgrading to the Prem, we probably needed that many, but melding this huge influx into a team will take enormous man-management and coaching skills. I’d have been confident that Joker could have done it, assuming that he could have attracted that many newcomers to Watford,but Flores is a completely unknown quantity as regards English football.

    We’ll have to wait and see, but I rather share ITWM’s misgivings. And also his sentimentality. Following a football team is like following a soap opera – it’s a bit difficult to re-engage if nearly all the cast gets changed between one series and the next.

  7. What is there to complain or be down about? We are about to have our third crack at the premier league, with our strongest team since the mid 80’s. Getting them to gel is going to be a problem, but at least on paper we have a good mix of experience, talent and youthful enthusiasm which can only add to the squad. There is also now good competition for places. The owners are developing the ground, how long were we all waiting for that to happen? So it’s happy days for any Watford fans.

    We needed to strengthen in midfield and defensively and we have added some proven quality out wide. It would have been naive to try and out score premier league teams next season. Up the orns…

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