WATFORD’S transition from the edge of bankruptcy to a halfway house for European talent has not always been well-received in the Championship – but have the Hornets now found the right formula for success?
Ever since the Pozzo family rescued the Hertfordshire club from the edge of oblivion, there has been a clash of culture at Vicarage Road.
On one hand you have a traditional old English football ground, albeit one currently going through a significant facelift; one penned in by allotments and bustling greasy spoon cafes.
But on the pitch the locals haven’t had it so good since the glory days of the early eighties – a continental style of football, a melting pot of foreign talents, one near-miss on the play-offs the season before last.
Should Beppe Sannino go one better than his predecessor Gianfranco Zola and take Watford into the top flight, they look better placed to stay there than at any time since the days of John Barnes and Luther Blissett.
Their methods may be questioned. Indeed, amidst much pressure from clubs in the division the Football League were forced to change their own rules after Zola’s side exploited the Pozzo’s links with Udinese and Granada to import a succession of loans two years ago.
But this year, Wanderers’ opponents on the opening day of the season seem to have found a happy medium.
A 13th-placed finish last year was well below expectation and when Dougie Freedman took his side to Watford to carve out a tactically astute 1-0 win last November there were signs that not all was right for Zola, sacked soon after.
Struggling with key injuries and missing the lethal Matej Vydra, Watford were simply not the same side.
Sannino’s appointment steadied the ship and by the end of the season there were signs the club were heading back in the right direction. Their work in the summer transfer market confirms exactly that.
Vydra now back in the fold after an unsuccessful year in the Premier League with West Brom, the Hornets have also reached for some Championship specialists in Leicester’s Lloyd Dyer, Blackpool’s Craig Cathcart and wandering Wanderer Keith Andrews, who will be unable to play against his parent club on Saturday.
Watford have added Ecuador’s World Cup full-back Juan Carlos Paredes, brought back Hungarian Daniel Toszer and also have the hugely influential Almen Abdi available after a foot injury that ruined his last 12 months.
The club have also managed to stave off top-flight interest in Troy Deeney, who is down to face Wanderers alongside Vydra in a two-pronged attack that Freedman must envy.
Almost a year ago, Jermaine Beckford pounced on a mistake from Manuel Almunia to snatch three points at Vicarage Road.
If anything, the task this time around looks even harder.