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Championship Preview: Watford

Club: Watford

Last season’s position: 11th

Recent history:

The Ashley young inspired play off victory side of 2006 must seem very long ago to the long suffering Watford fans. In the wake of that win which propelled Aidy Boothroyd’s team back into the big time the board did little to strengthen a side that would have to wait until November to record its first victory and underlined it’s lack of ambition by selling Young to Villa for what, in hindsight, seems like a paltry £10m. As the Hornets former winger has gone from strength to strength, the fortunes of his former club have taken the opposite trajectory.
Unsurprisingly Watford finished that Premiership campaign rock bottom, however the clubs attempt to bounce back in the 2007-8 season looked to be paying dividends as the team roared into life at the start of the season, however finishing a disappointing sixth and limping out of the playoffs with a semi final capitulation to Hull was the final nail in Boothroyd’s coffin. For the 2008-09 season Boothroyd was replaced by Brendan Rodgers and the club finished just above the relegation zone. Another managerial change shortly followed and Malky Mackay presided over a difficult time for the club as parachute payments which rolled in thanks to that 2006 play off final victory started to dry up and key players were sold. Despite this Mackay guided the club to a respectable 16th and then 14th in his two seasons in charge. This achievement did not go un-noticed and Mackay departed before the start of last season for Cardiff and was replaced with his assistant, Sean Dyche. Last year Watford finished bang on mid table playing a reliable if slightly bland style of football under Dyche, however the purchase of the club by Udinese owners the Pozzo family has again seen a change in manager with the Italians appointing countryman and Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola as the man to oversee the transformation of the club into Udinese’s English feeder team.

Manager profile:

It’s probably fair to say that Zola’s managerial career hasn’t quite matched the heights of his playing days, however there is room for optimism. After retiring from football by typically scoring two goals for his beloved Cagliari against Juventus in the summer of 2005, Zola was appointed as Pierluigi Casiraghi’s assistant in the Italian u-21 set up. Zola’s first experience as a coach at a big tournament came as Italy made it to the quarter finals of the Olympic football tournament in Beijing.
Shortly after that tournament Zola took a step up the ladder and was appointed a certain Alan Curbishley’s replacement at West Ham. Zola built an exciting side, predicated on flair and youth which won him many admirers particularly amongst the Hammers notoriously hard to please supporters. West Ham finished 2008-9 in 9th place, which represented an improvement, however the following year would be a difficult one for the club with Zolas efforts undermined by pitch invasions in a cup fixture against Millwall and a funding crisis for the clubs Icelandic owners which saw Zola rely on help from the clubs sponsor to land him a striker (Alessandro Diamanti) for what was becoming a relegation battle. Despite winning that battle, just, Zola was dismissed at the end of the 2009-10 season.
Zola returned to Italy and was a regular fixture as a co-commentator and pundit on Italian television, but was coaxed out of the warmth of the TV studio for the rigours of the Championship when the Pozzo’s sold him their dream of turning Watford into the third jewel in a crown that already includes Udinese and Spanish outfit Granada – but will the Italian dream turn into a Hertfordshire nightmare ?

Summer transfer activity:

In: Alex Geijo (Udinese/loan), Manuel Almunia (Arsenal/free), Fitz Hall (QPR/free), Almen Abdi (Udinese/loan), Daniel Pudil (Granada/loan), Matej Vydra (Udinese/loan), Leo Beleck (Udinese/loan), Ikechi Anya (Granada/loan)

Out: Scott Loach (Ipswich/£160k), Adrian Mariappa (Reading/£3.3m), Tom James (Nuneaton/free), Rene Gilmartin (Plymouth/free), Josh Walker (Scunthorpe/free),

Expected line-up:

(due to the influx of so many Udinese players and pre-season line ups which don’t say too much, this is guess work)
Almunia, Hodson, Dickinson, Taylor, Hall, Eustace, Hogg, Iwelumo, Yeates, Beleck, Geijo

Expected Tactics/Formation

Gianfranco Zola’s side have been bolstered by an influx of players from the Pozzo families other clubs, with a total of six coming into the squad on a loan basis. The pick of the bunch appears to be Alex Geijo who scored 24 goals over two seasons at Granada in the Spanish second tier. The majority of the players who have arrived are strikers which perhaps indicate that Zola intends to pick up where he left off at West Ham and play the attacking style of football he was so famed for as a player. In that case don’t be surprised to see a 4-3-3 formation, which Zola has experimented with during the pre-season.

What are the fans saying?

Watford supporters are a little worried that whilst the squad seems large, there appear to be a dearth of fit players ready for Saturday’s opener against Palace. In addition the Pozzo’s have only applied for a level three academy which, for a club famed for it’s production line, has not gone down well with the supporters. However, and perhaps surprisingly, Watford supporters do not seem to mind the clubs new place in the Pozzo family pecking order and seem confident that, once fit, the likes of Geijo will inspire to perhaps a playoff place.

Odds: 25/1 (5th) champions (same as us), 9/1 promoted

Main Forum:


Watford are an unknown quantity this year. How good are the players loaned in ? Can the club survive without Mariappa’s defensive abilities ? What sort of brief has Zola been given by the Pozzo’s ? What are the Pozzo’s intentions ?
We’re going to find out shortly, but I wouldn’t count out a late promotion push but I think ultimately 7th place beckons the Hornets.

Compiled by: se9addick

How do you see Watford doing this season ?


  • Zola ? .. He should stick to writing novels .. relegation material despite the Italian Connection
  • Bottom Half
  • edited August 2012
    What do people think of the way Watford are now being treated by the Udinese owners ? I'm not sure myself if this should be allowed but I can't put my finger on why. It just doesn't feel right to me. I wouldn't like Charlton to be turned into some foreign clubs reserve team even if some of the multitudes of players they were sending us were decent.
  • 17th, they'll struggle as a feeder club.
  • Not a fan at all of this network of clubs malarkey. Identity is one of the key ingredients why 92 professional clubs survive in this country.

    Nothing against Watford as a club, but hope it fails.
  • Down with the palace.
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