Troy Deeney said in his programme notes on Wednesday that Watford “seem to almost be one window ahead in our [transfer] planning”. The forward-thinking should become even more crystalised now as, barring a dramatic downturn in form, Watford will be a Premier League team next season. The recruitment team already know who they want to sign in the summer and they can now spend the next five months monitoring the market and speaking to influential agents to see if the circumstances change of any player who they thought might have been previously out of reach, a big hitter that might prompt a rejig of the shortlist of around four players they have for each position.
If they managed to sign, say, Etienne Capoue in the summer when they were hotly tipped to go straight back down, and managed to prise Mario Suarez out of Fiorentina during a notoriously difficult month to conduct transfer business, then the mouth waters at just who the club could land in the summer after half-a-season’s preparation. Whoever arrives, expect them to be in time for a full pre-season with Quique Sanchez Flores. Victor Ibarbo, Alessandro Diamanti, Adlene Guedioura, Obbi Oulare and Steven Berghuis were always playing catch up.
“We’ve signed some quality players every window,” said Ben Watson before discussing the pitfalls of the club resting on its laurels. “Every year we need to improve the squad, and the manager and owner know what they are doing. The competition keeps everyone on their toes and it’s great for the supporters to know Watford are in a good place.”
The solid foundations the club seem to be built on are a result of some damn fine players, a gem of a head coach, some smart and judicious thinking in the boardroom and an unrivalled scouting network.
“The main difference when I joined Watford was the scouting structure in place,” said sporting director Luke Dowling in an interview with BBC Radio 5 live on Monday. “When I worked at Blackburn and Portsmouth, and then at Leeds, there was no scouting structure. That comes from relegation, with Blackburn, or financial trouble with Portsmouth and Leeds. As soon as you cut costs the first thing to go is the scouting structure.”
Gino Pozzo views it the other way. You are, he clearly thinks, only as good as the players you have so he ploughs significant money into his scouting operation.
“Our scouting structure was that of a top half Premier League side even when we were in the Championship,” Dowling said. “The owner puts money into it and sees it as important thing.”
Filippo Giraldi, the chief scout, heads up the well-oiled, highly professional team of around 30.
“We are everywhere,” said Dowling. “We are in South America, Africa and very strong in Europe. We’ve got full-time scouts all over the world, at tournaments and different games each weekend.”
The one criticism is the lack of home-grown signings but the club just do not see the value in the inflated UK market. Manchester United paid £31m for Luke Shaw in 2014. Watford signed Jose Holebas for £1.88m. Cardiff City announced their arrival into the Premier League in 2013 by paying £8m for Steven Caulker. Watford picked up Miguel Britos on a free. And Adam Lallana cost Liverpool £25m 18 months ago. Watford paid just over £10m for Etienne Capoue and Mario Suarez.
“Because of our scouting network, we identify players that are British and then compare them with players of a similar age in Europe or South America. We then speak to the player’s representative and the difference in salary and transfer fee, and the desire of that player to come to Watford, is hugely in favour of the foreign player. The desire for the foreign boys to come here and play in the Premier League is very, very important to us. They have to be good enough.”
Andros Townsend was a player Watford were really keen on. They tabled a bid of £10m for the England winger and were well prepared to increase their offer after discovering the player was keen to play his football in the south east of England, but then Newcastle significantly upped the ante and Watford were not prepared to be dragged into a bidding war. Townsend performed a U-turn in the space of a weekend. The club, in the end, were pleased with the business they did in signing Costel Pantilimon, Nordin Amrabat, Suarez, Abdoulaye Doucoure and Adalberto Peñaranda
“We’ve had what we would call a really solid window,” said Deeney in his programme notes. “I’ve seen some clubs doing absolutely nothing and some clubs spending desperately, but we seem to almost be one window ahead in our planning and that shows how much work goes on away from the pitch in making sure this club is always moving forward.”