As we look forward to the upcoming season, we see hope and promise riding on the shoulders of Javi Gracia and his Watford squad. The team is a business and is run so by Gino Pozzo. Our stars will eventually be sold as Watford will continue to put a quality product on the pitch, but it will limit the potential and success in the Premier League.
The core of our squad is proven, but we look towards our youngsters and the transfer market to upgrade our deficiencies. As I highlighted in part one, one major need ahead of the season, central defenders. This position has been anchored by Craig Cathcart and Adrian Mariappa much of last season but are over 30 years old.
Youth Gone Wild
One of the strongest parts of team, our scouting network, as Watford has been successful in buying low, selling high, while maintaining a competitive starting 11 that is capable of 11 wins to retain their Premier League status.
“I never fall in love with a player,”says Filippo Giraldi, technical director at Watford. “If you look at the world in front of you, there is somewhere a better player than [the one] you are chasing.” The club takes a simple approach to their scouting and youth program; take quick but calculated risks, know everyone is dispensable (Richalison is a prime example), hire foreign players and resist pay raises and exploit the rules. There’s a great article from the Financial Times talking to Filippo and Scott Duxbury about their scouting practices.
There’s a wealth of talent that has spent some time with the parent club or have been loaned out, to get more first team experience. The most exciting prospects seem to come from South America. Joao Pena, bought last October for 2.5 million is a 17-year-old forward for Fluminense. While he is scheduled to join Watford in January, 2020, the Brazilian has scored nine goals in 15 games, including a hat trick in the Copa Sudamericana. His play has been compared to Rogue Santa Cruz, quick over the pitch, good in the air and has ability with both feet.
We’ve been watching the work card drama with Adalberto Penaranda for some time now. He’s spent the last two years with La Liga side, Malaga, as he’s bumped around other Pozzo clubs, Granada and Udinese. Many supporters have been looking forward to seeing Penaranda, as he picked up two cup starts last season, but a rupture femoral biceps of the leg on international duty with Venezuela has him sidelined.
Another star comes out of Columbia, in the way of “Cucho” Hernandez, a 20-year-old forward on load to the Spanish club, SD Huesca. He’s got pace and ability to dribble past defenders and could represent a replacement if Watford can’t secure the services of Roberto Pereyra. He’s scored 20 goals over the last two seasons.
Domingos Quina was signed from West Ham United, has looked good in limited playing time. He scored a spectacular goal in the EFL Cup away to Reading that had supporters take notice. Belgian, Dodi Lukebakio was signed from Anderlecht, January 2018 through 2022. Featured in a single game for Watford the year prior before he was loaned to Fortuna Dusseldorf, scoring 10 goals in 31 games for the Bundesliga club.
Defensively, supporters had a chance to see Ben Wilmot, who played well for lower division, Stevenage, but has not had a chance to gain much first team experience. At 19-years-old, he’s now on loan at Udinese, where he got just five starts on the season.
Show Me the Transfers
This early in the transfer window, there are nothing more then rumors circulating though the Vic. One of the more notable headlines, Gracia has been linked (unofficially) with the vacant Chelsea job. As reported by Adam Leventhal, there has been no official approach, no contract offered and the £15 million clause figure is inaccurate.
Many rumors are highlighting the “need” for depth at midfielder, which could lead to further speculation that Abdoulaye Doucoure will be on his way out and Pereyra “could” return to Serie A. Former Newcastle midfielder, Mohamed Diame, not retained has been mentioned as a squad player. Middlesbrough’s Marcus Tavernier, a 20-year-old midfielder has also been linked with a move to Watford. Other names include, Partizen Belgrade’s Strahinja Pavlovic, Werder Bremen’s Milos Vejkovic, Stade Rennais James Lea-Siliki and KAA Gent’s Birger Verstraete.
There has been some excitement with the link to Strasbourg and Kenny Lala, at 27 he isn’t a youth player, but was the top right back in Ligue 1 last season, scoring 5 goals and 9 assists. He could potentially cost £15 million. The other player is Barcelona’s Jean Clair Todibo, at 19-years-old, he’s still young and somewhat unproven, but could be “one to watch” says Leventhal.
The only odd connection, Guillermo Ochoa, the 33-year-old Mexican goalkeepers, applying his experience at Standard Liege. He’s previously worked with Gracia at Malaga. Not sure he would push Ben Foster for the starting spot as Austrian, Daniel Bachmann would, but if we can’t entice Heurelho Gomes to stay for one more year, then Ochoa could be an interesting signing.
Coming off the best Premier League performance last season, anticipation is high for the Golden Boys to be fighting to a top 10 finish in the upcoming season. While there are some problem areas with the squad, hopefully another off season under Gracia can resolve some of the nagging issues we saw on the pitch. The addition of a few key players could prove vital as we wait and watch for those signings to come. As an supporter, I am looking forward to another strong campaign by the Hornets.