Hornets happy to have hope
The summer takeover has breathed new life into the Hornets but the arrival of the Pozzo family arouses certain concerns….
Barnsley ｜ Birmingham ｜ Blackburn ｜ Blackpool
Bolton ｜ Brighton ｜ Bristol City ｜ Burnley
Cardiff ｜ Charlton ｜ Crystal Palace ｜ Derby
Huddersfield ｜ Hull ｜ Ipswich ｜ Leeds
Leicester ｜ Middlesbrough ｜ Millwall ｜ Nott'm Forest
Peterborough ｜ Sheff Wed ｜ Watford ｜ Wolves
Takeovers are designed to unsettle a club’s foundations; it is the aftershocks which must be managed as new owners begin to make their mark. Watford were acquired by the Pozzo family during the summer, bringing to an end Laurence Bassini’s unloved stewardship, while inexperienced boss Gianfranco Zola was swiftly drafted in to replace inexperienced boss Sean Dyche.
The Hornets have joined a footballing portfolio; the Italians also own top-flight continental sides Udinese and Granada. Quite what this will mean for the club remains unclear. While Granada benefitted from hefty investment, enough to prompt promotion to, and subsequent survival in, La Liga, they were also boosted by a string of loan additions from Udine.
The dismissal of Dyche was ruthless but far from unexpected. While he will be remembered fondly for his efforts in having the Hornets punching above their weight in his debut campaign in charge, he was never going to be the man for the new investors. But in Zola they have not appointed a boss with a track record significantly better than that of the previous incumbent.
A popular face in English football, the 46-year-old is nevertheless wet behind the ears. Though his West Ham exit in 2010 appeared to have been poorly handled, his second season with the Hammers was not one of overachievement – they went on to finish 17th, five points clear of the bottom three. He will be afforded the benefit of the doubt from the fanbase, who have become used to seeing untried managers in the dugout in recent years. They could do with an Aidy Boothroyd rather than a Gianluca Vialli.
Hornets supporters are understandably cautious. A change of ownership was broadly considered to be a good thing after the reign of Bassini, which included frequent cost-cutting and brushes with administration, not least a lack of coherent communication. New investment will be welcomed as long overdue and talk of a Premier League return is guaranteed to appeal to a support which has been resigned to grim consolidation since their last campaign in the top flight.
But the mood is laced with trepidation. The Pozzos come with a good reputation for promoting youth development and for managing their clubs sustainably but the Hornets are wary of becoming something of a feeder team. Amid the recent on-field stagnation, the introduction of young faces into the first XI has been one of the positives at Vicarage Road, and it would leave a sour taste were that to be eroded in favour of a stream of Udinese’s second string. At the time of writing, three loan players have arrived from the Italian club – Leo Beleck, Matej Vyrda and Almen Abdi – as well as Ikechi Anya and Daniel Pudil from Andalucia.
But despite those reservations, the future would seem to be bright. Prior to the arrival of the Pozzo family, Granada had been out of the Spanish top tier since 1976. Now, albeit with a few close shaves along the way, they have another season to pit their wits against Real Madrid and Barcelona. Udinese, with whom the family have a longer association, are regular challengers for the European places in Serie A.
There remains a question mark over Zola – he is short of experience at Championship level but has been busy readying himself for a return to management since leaving Upton Park. He will need to hit the ground running to make use of the measured optimism in Hertfordshire.
And the squad at his disposal, notwithstanding the cast of multinational new loanees, has plenty of potential. The likes of Lee Hodson and Craig Forsyth have impressed since breaking into the side while skipper John Eustace, as well as Lloyd Doyley and Chris Iwelumo provide significant experience. If Zola can blend it all together, using the platform established by Malky Mackay and Dyche, then the Hornets might just be on to something. But the road ahead is pock-marked with pitfalls; the hope is that the investors, and their new chairman Raffaele Riva, have the nous and financial wherewithal to ensure the club’s safe passage.
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