As the curtain came down on another season last Sunday and as the yellow wave of fans departed the stadium, it signalled the end of a successful campaign at Vicarage Road.
Watford FC entered the Premier League favourites to be relegated after five managerial changes within the previous season. However three wins and a draw in December, including a commanding victory over Europa League finalists, Liverpool suggested that a second season beckoned for the Hertfordshire club.
Away from the Premier League – in which Watford finished the season in 13th, a foray in the F.A. Cup and notable victories over Newcastle and Arsenal provided more than a pleasant distraction as Watford reached the Semi-Finals at Wembley, before a tame performance saw them knocked out by Crystal Palace.
The Quest Continues For Watford FC
All in all, not much to complain about on the achievement front and Watford fans can be proud of what Quique Sanchez Flores and the team have accomplished in such a short space of time. But with Flores on the way out, what can we expect over the next few months and where can Watford go from here?
The Pozzo family have been on a quest since the takeover in 2012. Just as the scouting network is international, the ambition has always been success on a global stage. European qualification is the target and the Pozzo’s do not like to fail.
“We run an operation on a global scale, a well-oiled, highly professional team, using many former players,” Andrea Carnevale, the chief scout, told the Guardian in his first interview with an English newspaper back in August of 2015. “We cover every significant competition around the world – regional championships at every level from under-17 to under-21, domestic leagues in Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Colombia and also across Europe: Belgium, Sweden, Serbia, Croatia. In all there are perhaps 25 or 30 of us. We’re constantly looking for players. Our ambitions have no limit.”
With three Pozzo-Owned clubs in the top tier of their respective countries, recruitment is as important as ever. But this will inevitably require players to make way.
Everyone has their opinion on who needs to move on, who needs to stay, and who needs to arrive. But the Pozzo’s are not afraid to upset the apple cart. Surprises are inevitable this summer and with Walter Mazzarri the likely candidate to replace Flores, the club will look to build from the back as Watford leaked 15 goals in the last six games of their season.
As a midfielder with little prowess for scoring (he scored 13 goals in 244 professional appearances), Mazzarri seemingly developed an appreciation for the art of defending which he has taken into his managerial career. As manager for Internazionale, they conceded only 39 goals in 38 games of the 2013/14 season. whilst four previous years as Napoli manager saw 43 (09/10), 39 (10/11), 46 (11/12), and 36 (2012/13) goals conceded in the league as Napoli finished Runners-Up in Serie A, won the Coppa Italia, and reached the Champions League last-16 under his stewardship.
So will the ‘Second-Season-Syndrome’ haunt Watford in the year to come?
Mazzarri will be appointed as manager for a purpose. What that will be we shall have to wait and see. Flores was employed to keep Watford in the Premier League, anything else was a bonus, and he was subsequently became a casualty of his own success. The owners saw what can be achieved with the right formula and the second half of the season was below par set by the previous high standards between August and January.
Mazzarri will employ his own style of play and will look to push on. Survival will not be enough and as fans we can expect less of the same. Although 3-5-2 has been his stock and trade formation, the Italian maestro will adapt to the pressures of Premier League football. Recruitment will be everything and with Jerome Sinclair, Doucouré, and Isaac Success looking to arrive this summer, Watford will field an exciting, fast, yet stable side again capable of challenging the best in the league. Only time will tell if it will be enough.
Franco Soldati, Udinese’s executive president, already believes that Watford are planning an onslaught on Europe as he sets about reassuring his own fans of the Pozzo benefit:
“Watford will be our engine room, to create a team that will take us to Europe. The very best young players, players of potentially world-beating quality, will go to England, where they will gain the experience that will eventually bear fruit in Friuli”.
So as we bid a fond farewell to the brilliant Quique Sanchez Flores, we can wallow in the knowledge that the quest continues for Watford FC, and Europe remains the destination.