Watford's Premier League promotion: Five things to know about the club
The Premier League will welcome Watford back for the 2015-16 season after Slavisa Jokanovic's men sealed promotion from the League Championship at the weekend. Here are five things to know about the north-west London club.
How have they done it?
By timing their run to perfection. Watford's mid-season form was nothing to write home about: they lost four consecutive games in November and were fifth at the turn of the year. But something clicked after a 2-0 defeat to promotion rivals Bournemouth on Jan. 30 that left them in sixth spot: they won 13 of their next 17 games, losing just two of them, while each of their rivals experienced some sort of sticky patch over that period.
In a division whose top eight have been separated by a whisker, it was a run consistent enough to see them over the line with a game to spare. They have performed particularly well against the division's lesser lights, handing out some big defeats; curiously, they have only won twice in 14 games against the other seven promotion contenders.
The "how" is more complicated if it refers to their modus operandi. Watford were taken over in June 2012 by the Pozzo family, who also own Serie A side Udinese and La Liga club Granada. Watford have certainly benefited from the Pozzos' vast scouting network, which has often seen them sign players for their other two clubs before passing them on to Vicarage Road, whether on loan or permanently for low fees.
Nine of their first-team squad, including strikers Matej Vydra and Odion Ighalo, have been on the books of Udinese or Granada before joining Watford. It is an arrangement that skilfully exploits certain loopholes in terms of transfers and player movement, and one that has been managed to perfection this season.
Who are their star men?
Watford's frontline take most of the plaudits and it is easy to see why -- the team averages exactly two goals a game this season and notable results include a 5-0 win at Fulham and a 7-2 hammering of Blackpool. Troy Deeney is their captain and talisman: the centre-forward, still just 26, has scored 21 league goals and is probably the best all-round striker in the Championship. Deeney is an aggressive, indefatigable presence who is both quick on the ground and fearsome in the air; he also makes a remarkable number of assists and, had Watford not made it up this year, would surely have made a long-deserved move to a big Premier League club. It is quite a turnaround for a player who spent three months in prison after a conviction for affray in 2012.
Ighalo and Vydra have also been crucial. The former is a rangy Nigerian striker who arrived from Granada last summer and has scored 20 league goals; Vydra is on loan from Udinese after a similar spell in 2012-13 and has netted 15 times. With firepower like this Watford's success is little surprise.
That is especially the case when it is backed up by quality, and Watford's attackers are only part of the story. Almen Abdi is among those to have been handed over by Udinese for free and is one of the Championship's best playmakers; midfielder Adlene Guedioura, on loan from Crystal Palace, has been superb in his two separate spells and is probably in the form of his career. There is international experience all over their squad and another example is that of Miguel Layun, a wing-back who played in the World Cup for Mexico and joined Watford in January just 10 days after moving from his homeland to Granada on a five-year contract.
Who is the manager behind their success?
Slavisa Jokanovic has guided Watford to the top flight, but that is only part of the story. Incredibly, the Serbian became their fourth manager of the season when he arrived on Oct. 7. Watford had begun the campaign with Beppe Sannino, who resigned in August, and replaced him with the former Brighton manager Oscar Garcia, who lasted four weeks before leaving for health reasons. Billy McKinlay then took charge for two games before Jokanovic, a former Deportivo La Coruna and Chelsea midfielder whose main achievements in the dugout had been to win Serbian and Thai league titles, was enlisted.
Despite early reservations from the support after losing four of his first six games, he has made sense of apparent chaos. Jokanovic has maintained the flowing style of football that Watford have adopted in recent seasons but has proved to be tactically astute too -- knowing when to make in-game changes such as switching from three at the back to four. But there is a pragmatism too and Watford perhaps mix things up more than they did in their last promotion tilt, in the 2012-13 season, when a side managed by Gianfranco Zola was beaten by Crystal Palace in the playoff final.
Jokanovic is an unlikely saviour in some ways but deserves the chance to continue his good work in the top flight. Pulling together a multinational group of players to be this consistent in the Championship is no easy job. If Watford falter early on, though, it would be little surprise if the Pozzos sought a more established name.
What is their Premier League history?
Watford, who experienced some heady days in the old First Division during the 1980s, have spent two seasons in the Premier League and look back upon neither with much fondness. In 1999-2000 they finished seven points adrift at the bottom under the auspices of Graham Taylor, who had been the architect of those earlier successes. Despite early wins at Liverpool and at home to Chelsea, a team that had earned a surprise promotion through the playoffs never looked cut out for the top flight although the January signing of Heidar Helguson, who went on to score six goals, did help them to put up some sort of fight.
There was more of the same in 2006-07. A grimly efficient Watford side, managed by Aidy Boothroyd, had come through the playoffs again but their direct, un-nuanced style and moderate budget saw them cast adrift once more. This time they finished six points behind 19th place, winning only five times. Boothroyd's side were rarely thrashed, but a squad that became bloated by obscure signings and desperate measures was never going to be good enough.
What are their prospects next season?
Much better. Watford will need strengthening but the Pozzos will see an opportunity here. The Premier League's health is such that its lower-ranking clubs can attract sums that the likes of Udinese and Granada can only dream of and, even if the process is a subtle one, it does not take a huge stretch of the imagination to see Watford become the family's flagship project.
That may rely upon a couple of years' consolidation and survival next year will be crucial, with extra Premier League experience likely to be a priority recruitment-wise. But, assuming that their owners are able to continue as they do, Watford seem well placed to push on and should certainly not be considered a plucky underdog.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.