As Ismaila Sarr was the only Watford player to score double-digits last season, the Hornets know attacking reinforcements are needed for Premier League safety. Even with the likes of the young Joao Pedro and Cucho Hernandez, the club know experienced strikers must arrive too in case Pedro and Cucho need time to adjust to the top tier of English football. However, Watford also wanted to create attacking competition lower down in the pecking order, so in came Ashley Fletcher. They will likely try to sign a more prolific, overall better striker as well, but them bringing in Fletcher was not without good reason.
Why Watford’s Ashley Fletcher Risk Makes Sense
Watford Sign Ashley Fletcher in Free Transfer
The Hornets confirmed the 25-year-old will arrive on July 1 once his Middlesbrough contract runs down. In his first interview with the Club, Fletcher said, “I can’t wait to see the fans back in the stadium. I want to get fans off the edge of their seats. I want to score goals and contribute to the team.”
Former Manchester United Youngster’s Turbulent Career
The former England U20 international player’s career has been stop-start, between patches of bad form and more often, injuries.
Despite this and a notably poor spell with West Ham United in the 2016/17 season, the once highly-rated Manchester United youngster has found form in the past couple of seasons. In the 2019/20 campaign, he scored 13 goals and tallied seven assists in all competitions for Middlesbrough.
Despite spending most of the 2020/21 season out with injury, Fletcher scored four goals and notched one assist in 15 appearances. Across the past two seasons, he averages one goal contribution every 167 minutes – a decent return for a player frequently considered a ‘flop’. Admittedly, the £6.5 million Middlesbrough paid in 2017 for a player who ended up scoring 28 goals in 108 appearances is quite hefty.
Watford’s Current Center-Forward Conundrum
Watford are facing an attacking dilemma ahead of their top-flight return. With Pedro performing well for Watford in the Championship and highly-rated 22-year-old Cucho set to finally make his English debut following many seasons on loan in Spain, the Hornets have two players who could prove to be stars.
However, at this junction in their careers, there is still uncertainty as to whether the 2021/22 campaign is the time to take the risk that this is their Premier League breakout season, so no new incomers are needed. As in, even though there is no doubting the players’ respective talent and potential, there is still risk that they might need a bit more time before being able to find prolific form in the Premier League. And even if they do not need more time, the club does not want to be left in a position where they do not have enough attacking options.
Thus, the club are actively seeking more attacking options. With the likes of Isaac Success, Andre Gray, and Stipe Perica all surplus to requirements and potentially being sold, space for a couple of new strikers is present. Fletcher joins to provide competition for the lower ends of the Hornets’ attacking unit, as Pedro, Cucho, perhaps Deeney, depending on his injury recovery progress, and potentially another new, higher-profile attacking transfer will all be higher up than him on the depth chart.
Ashley Fletcher Transfer is Low Risk, High Reward
The bottom line is that Fletcher arrives on a free transfer without many expectations. If he performs well and makes an unexpected true break into the first team, then the Hornets will really have done good business. But, if Fletcher’s role is as it currently seems – to provide depth in the deeper parts of the squad – then the Hornets still do not lose much.
Considering a new attacking signing is still wanted by Watford, Fletcher is not seen as a solution to potential goalscoring problems if Pedro and Cucho do not hit the ground running. Rather, he is a player who will assist in raising the level of the squad’s depth and if an improbable breakthrough occurs, then so be it.
Considering his impressive 2019/20 season, if he can stay fit, it is not as if he has not proven himself as a capable goalscorer. With no fee paid and low expectations, the Hornets have nothing to lose with this transfer, while both Fletcher and the club have everything to win if an unexpected – but not impossible – positives occurs.
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