Watford’s Under-18s’ season ended with penalty shootout final disappointment in a high-calibre tournament in Germany yesterday but the side’s coach, David Horseman, says what the young Hornets have achieved this season should be celebrated.
Watford took a team made up of players from their under-18s and under-17s – plus first year pro Dennon Lewis – to the three-day under-19 tournament in Germany, which saw clubs from across Europe – Club Brugge, where Obbi Oulare was schooled, Kaiserslautern, RB Leipzig, FC Koln, VFL Bochum, SC Pfullendorf , FC Utrecht, Sparta Prague and the Hornets – in action in the Yokohama Cup.
Watford topped their group, defeating Sparta Prague and Kaiserslautern and drawing with Bochum, before overcoming Club Brugge 5-4 on penalties in the semi-final after the game ended 0-0 in normal time.
Watford faced Sparta in the final on a rain-soaked pitch which made it difficult to implement a passing game. The game was goalless after 90 minutes and went to a shootout. The young Hornets were beaten 4-2 on penalties with Chris Haigh, who was named goalkeeper of the tournament, only able to save one of Prague’s spot kicks.
The Hornets fly home today from Germany, and Horseman believes they should do so with their heads held high. The under-18s won the Professional Development League Two South, keeping 11 consecutive clean sheets and embarking on an unbeaten run of 14 matches. They lost just three matches in the regular season before losing agonisingly in a playoff defeat to northern division runners-up Sheffield United, who were overseen by former Watford academy chief Nick Cox who is moving to Manchester United.
“I hope we can replicate it again next season because we have achieved so much this year,” Horseman told Hornets Player. “We played several England internationals and very good teams this season. It was a challenge. We played different styles and different cultures from the north and south. That is completely different at our level. They have been a pleasure to work with and I wish them all the best for next season and wherever they go in their careers. This is a season we’ll look back on with fond memories.”
The backbone of the under-18s side has been offered professional contracts. Captain Charlie Rowan, top scorer Michael Folivi, his strike partner Obi Obo, full-backs Andrew Eleftheriou and Brandon Mason, centre-half Connor Stevens, Wales youth international Rhyle Ovenden and goalkeeper Nathan Gartside will all remain with the club next season. Max Makaka and Jacob Cook missed out on a pro deal.
Those who have been kept on will move up to the Under-21 side which is overseen by Harry Kewell. Many have already featured under the Australian this season. “The link with the Under-21s was strong so they played up a level and in big games, ” said Horseman, who passed his UEFA A coaching licence badge last week. “They had difficult situations to handle and that helped [their development].”