"...this is the most articulate and accurate piece written about the club for years!" - Tales from the Front, http://www.otib.co.uk/

Saturday, 4 January 2014

The Inside Line: Watford (F.A.Cup Rd 3, 04/01/2014)

Apologies for the lateness of this, the new year still catching up with us all at The Exiled Robin, but there’s a really good Inside Line on today’s F.A.Cup third round opponents, Watford, to read here, including some great insight on the Italian ownership, the Udinese loans and Gianfranco Zola’s downfall. Well worth a read!

My thanks to Stu Radnedge and Matt Rowson who writes BHappy http://bhappy.wordpress.com/ - and is a regular contributor to The Two Unfortunates, for their time and words.

Last year was an interesting one for Watford. The ambition of Gianfranco Zola led many to tip you for promotion.  Alike City in 2008, you ultimately finished one place outside the automatic spots and went on to lose in the playoff final.  How did it feel as your season had appeared very strong?
Don't mention 2008.  We were twelve points clear in 1st at one stage and clung onto a playoff spot by virtue of that lead and nobody being good enough to deprive us of the top six finish our awfulness post-Christmas hadn't deserved...

Obviously the defeat to Palace at Wembley was choking; the defeat to Leeds on the last day of the season more so.  We needed to better Hull's result against Cardiff, then managed by our old manager Malky Mackay who, to his credit, threw on strikers to get a point from a game he didn't need anything from. We blew it, but lost two keepers - one before the game, one during it meaning that we were forced to give a debut to a young keeper who had already been told he was being released.  That was a very difficult afternoon.

But the desolation didn't last long.  You say our season had been strong... but the takeover the previous summer had been drawn out, the new players had taken time to settle and once we'd got going in October/November we cut through the division like a dose of salts.  Naturally we expected to continue in the same vein...

Last season Watford's team, dubbed by many as Udinese b-team, caused a lot of confusion as to if any league rules on loan players had been broken. Was it something about nothing or were the rules being pushed?
We didn't break any rules;  I think it's fair to say that we found a loophole and exploited it.  Specifically, international loans aren't technically loans;  they are permanent transfers with an agreement to transfer back. As such, the restriction concerning number of loans that could be fielded at a time didn't cover our large number of loans from Udinese and Granada.

Udinese B is slightly misleading too.  The Pozzo model is based around the approach that most sub-Prem clubs pursue... buy/develop rough diamonds, polish them, sell them on for a profit.  It's just on a whole different scale... and built on the back of a vast scouting network.  Udinese is home base, effectively, from where a lot of these players were loaned out (inc to non-Pozzo clubs) but there are obviously benefits to having clubs in different leagues that might suit different styles of player.  We were picked to be the English Pozzo team by virtue of being low-hanging fruit, but have fallen on our feet...  the Pozzos have owned Udinese for 25 years, have converted them from a Serie B to a Champions League team, and the list of players that have passed through is extraordinary.  So...  the Pozzos bought us, and rather than building up the traditional bank of debt by investing in the team simply lent us players that they'd already bought and developed.

The rules have since changed in that loans from anywhere apply, which is fair enough.  Most of the loans that came in last year and worked have become long-term permanent deals - the exceptions are Matej Vydra, now at West Brom, and Nathaniel Chalobah who Chelsea gave a £35/k a week contract that we didn't want to pick up.  He's been at Forest.

The embargo that we were placed under which you may have read about is unrelated, and due to the actions of the bandit who owned the club before the Pozzos.

Zola left his post in December. Was it a shock and why did he leave?
In the end, no.  Hugely disappointing, but not a shock.  Last year was fabulous, we started reasonably well this season;  however the loss of Vydra meant we had lost the pace up front, and an injury to player of the season Almen Abdi meant that we had little answer to teams who came to the Vic, sat back, kept it tight and waited for us to cock up.  We were always shipping goals last season so that hadn't changed, but we'd lost the variety to score them  - at least unless teams made the mistake of playing an open game against us.

We lost five home games on the hop and looked increasingly unlikely to profit from them.  Zola sounded increasingly defeated and hapless...  if he'd come out fighting he had plenty of brownie points in the locker, nobody was calling for his head.  He blatantly just didn't know what to do.

The new gaffer – is he just a friend of the Italian owners, or is he worthy of being at the club?
He's very experienced, albeit exclusively in Italy.  He's not worked for the Pozzos before, but his approach is much more to do with industry, organisation and a solid defence - very much the model the Pozzos have tended to favour at Udinese.  We'll see.  We've conceded one goal - an iffy penalty - in three games since his arrival, so so far so good.

You've just signed two new players from, of course, Udinese. Do you know much about them?
They've both been linked for a while, there was talk of them coming in the summer.

Merkel is a Kazakh-born German attacking midfielder;  quite a high profile having played for Milan  (and Udinese) despite being only 21.  He's on loan for the season, and is ostensibly long-term cover for the still-missing Abdi, who we miss badly.

Mathias Ranégie is a 6ft5 Swedish international striker - he played alongside Zlatan when he murdered England 18 months ago.  He's signed permanently, but neither will feature in the cup tie. 

Are you confident that there will be no early cup exit for Watford at the hands of Bristol City? 
No...  it's a one-off game, you've had a good few games and have nothing to lose here.  I do think we'll win - but "confident" would be overstating it.

Who do you fear the most in our squad?
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas has ripped us to bits in the past.  The trajectory of career - from Arsenal to the Championship to League One - suggests that he doesn't do that to teams every week, but in a one off cup tie he doesn't have to. 

And finally, can I have a score prediction please?

No, I'm not very good at those.   

So rain permitting - even at this late stage - we're all set for one of the biggest days in the football calendar. Who knows what may be just around the corner if we can pick up from where we left off against Watford's near-neighbours, Stevenage, in the final game of last year.


The Exiled Robin

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