Wednesday, 30 January 2013

The morning after the night before..

OI! Zola, what are you looking so happy about?

I’ll be honest. I wouldn’t have made six changes.

That said, Gianfranco Zola and I differ in many ways. There are a lot of things that he has done that I haven’t. Among them, making 629 club appearances and picking up 31 International caps during a playing career that spanned over two decades. He’s also managed in the Premier League. It’s fair to say our footballing experiences have been slightly different. A glittering career and a (well deserved) reputation as one of the nicest men in football shouldn’t mean he is exempt from criticism of course, but I must confess to being shocked at the level of abuse headed Zola’s way in the wake of Watford’s defeat at Bristol City.

High on the list of accusations was complacency. Of not taking bottom of the table Bristol City seriously, making changes because he thought we could just turn up and win. I find that a tough notion to entertain. In twenty seasons of football, Zola will have played against bottom of the table sides at least forty times. I find it impossible to believe that he and his teammates will have left the field after any of these encounters thinking “crikey, that was easy, we should have sent out the reserves…” That’s just not how football is. With this in mind, why would Zola change his outlook now? After being involved in the professional game for 29 years, why on a wet Tuesday night In Bristol would he decide that bottom of the table teams are easy to beat?

The other main charge levelled against Zola, was one of playing a weakened team. A weakened team? A team weakened by the presence of Fitz Hall, one of our most consistent defenders, fans favourite Sean Murray, club captain John Eustace, Jonathan Hogg – who supporters had fretted about losing to Ipswich, Alex Geijo, complete with his record of almost a goal every other game in La Liga and cult hero Fernando Forestieri? I’m sure there are plenty of other clubs who would like to have those sorts of weaknesses.

Quite apart from anything else, if players aren’t good enough to feature in the first team, what are they doing on the books? Weakened team my foot. I’m not having that.

What (I hope) people were actually upset by was the changed team. I wouldn’t say I was particularly  angered by the changes, but I’ll repeat my first sentence – I wouldn’t have made six of them. If it ‘aint broke don’t fix it is on the surface of things, a fairly sound motto, but I’ll repeat my second point – Gianfranco Zola knows a lot more about football and the inner workings of this Watford team than I do.

The elephant(s) in the room are Deeney and Vydra. Two of the most feared strikers in the division left on the bench. Were they tired? Did Zola want to keep them fresh and hungry for the upcoming games? Were they carrying slight injuries?  Perhaps. We’ll never know. It was a brave move, whatever the reasoning behind it, and whilst it didn’t pay dividends in this particular game, it may benefit them and the team as the season progresses. There’s a long way to go and perhaps even hotshot strikers need a bit of looking after from time to time.

Two of our other stellar performers have been Chalobah and Cassetti, both also left on the bench, both for presumably the same reason. One is very young and playing his first season of competitive football, the other is older and is playing in what must be one of his last. Chalobah has been showing signs of needing a break, losing possession easily on occasion, whilst expecting Cassetti to play 46 games is totally unrealistic. Resting them at different times may have made more sense, but if it turns out we’ve sacrificed this game to keep those two at peak performance for the rest of the season, then it might have been worth it.

Battochio and Doyley were the others to drop out, both of whom will have been disappointed. It’s unlikely however that they’ll have been as disappointed as the 1,000 Hornets fans who had travelled to Ashton Gate and the countless others who were listening in, hoping that Watford could secure second place in the table. I count myself among that number. I hate losing, especially in what looks like a winnable game on the back of a terrific run of form.

The chances are that Zola probably made a few mistakes last night and I’m sure they won’t be his last as Watford boss. I’d be amazed if he wasn’t as frustrated as the rest of us with the result. As supporters our duty isn’t to blindly praise or defend everything that happens, we have the right to be critical, to pass judgement, to offer our opinion. It’s part of the fun, an intrinsic part of the football fan experience. If however you’re going to be critical, try and think it through. Take your arguments or observations through to their natural conclusion. Weigh up both sides before condemning. I repeat. We all have the right to criticise, but there are very few occasions, especially at this moment in time where that criticism can’t be constructive.

Come on You Horns.

Download the latest podcast via iTunesPlus, get FTRE blog posts sent straight to your inbox. Simply enter your email address in the "Subscribe by Email" box in the right hand column near the top of this page. Or if you're really technical you can use this RSS code.

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Your new favourite Watford goal.

Every Watford fan has a list of their favourite hornet goals. The team goal, that Cris Battocchio finished off, against Huddersfield on 19th January 2013 is bound to be added to a list or two. Here, in pictorial form, is that majestic goal.

Download the latest podcast via iTunesPlus, get FTRE blog posts sent straight to your inbox. Simply enter your email address in the "Subscribe by Email" box in the right hand column near the top of this page. Or if you're really technical you can use this RSS code.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

No-one likes us...

It's the lone (loan) ranger. See what I've done.. oh forget it.

A while ago, with Watford firmly in the cross hairs of opposition supporters and a few journalists with an agenda, I wrote the following article. Since I put pen to paper, the Hornets have continued to attract criticism, largely from ill informed local journalists who are seemingly unwilling to do even the most basic of research, whilst opposing supporters still gleefully (but woefully inaccurately) label us "Udinese B" or "Cheating Italians"

On the flip side, however, a few people have started to sit up and take notice, recognising that this is a genuinely exciting team that has a lot of potential - the clinical dismantling of Brighton live on Sky over Christmas certainly caught the attention of those who may previously have dismissed the Hornets as an irrelevance. There are still those who choose to question and criticise Watford and their owners though, so I think it's an opportune time to ask my original question again. No-one likes us. Should we care?...

(Original article written October 2012)

Watford have always had something of a ‘cuddly’ image. They were of course the original family club and in the main, that reputation remains. I’ve never had a problem with it – the clubs active efforts to court families when I was growing up in the 80s are the reason I’m a supporter now. I have no doubt my Dad wouldn’t have taken me and my younger brother to Vicarage Road so often if it wasn’t for the safe environment we were guaranteed.

This continued positioning means that the Hornets have very rarely been viewed as anything other than inoffensive. The closest Watford have come to upsetting people came back in the early 1980’s when Graham Taylor raised the hackles of established Division One managers –  largely by beating them and their supposedly better teams week in week out. Aidy Boothroyd ruffled a few feathers too, but in the main it has been hard to find many people with a bad word to say about my club.

Until now.

When the Pozzo family, owners of Udinese (Serie A) and Granada (La Liga) took over at WD18 in the summer, they attracted criticism by immediately sacking Sean Dyche and replacing him with Gianfranco Zola. This was followed up with the implementation of the model that had brought success to Granada – namely loaning the Spanish club players from Udinese. This tactic paid spectacular dividends as Granada earned back to back promotions, but eyebrows were raised and questions asked when bolstered by loans, Watford’s squad ballooned to a total of 42 professional players.

After an indifferent start to the season, the initial interest in Watford’s fortunes seemed to have waned – onlookers dismissing the Pozzo project as an ill thought out idea, doomed to fail. Then the landscape changed again. Martin Samuel of the Daily Mail wrote an article under the headline: “Watford are a snapshot of all that is wrong with the modern game”. It was fairly easy to deduce that the man from the Mail is not a fan. Then came consecutive away wins at Huddersfield and Charlton, welcome wins for Watford, but they brought with them complaints from opposition fans, many of them seemingly upset with the number of foreigners Watford now had in the squad, and the way in which a few of them seemed to have trouble staying upright.

All of a sudden Watford fans have found themselves in the unfamiliar situation of having to defend the club on a number of fronts. Whether it is national journalists suggesting Watford are ruining the game by using the loan system to gain an unfair advantage, or opposition fans furious at the antics of players from overseas, Watford are quickly turning into the club everyone loves to hate.

It could be argued that in becoming a target for opposition fans, we are clearly doing something right. After all would they be so upset if they hadn’t lost to us? If we’re worth getting angry about, we’re at least making people sit up and notice. Indeed, I had a conversation with a fellow Watford supporter last season who surprised me by saying he wished Watford could get rid of their nice guy image. He felt it was a competitive disadvantage and voiced his desire for Watford to be ‘a bit more nasty’.

Well, it looks like the change in perception he wanted has come to pass.

It feels like for now at least, no-one likes us. The real question is – should we care?

Download the latest podcast via iTunesPlus, get FTRE blog posts sent straight to your inbox. Simply enter your email address in the "Subscribe by Email" box in the right hand column near the top of this page. Or if you're really technical you can use this RSS code.