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‘We sign the players but we don’t pick the Watford team’

Sporting director Luke Dowling insists the club would not sign a player the head coach doesn’t fancy, despite the downside of their model being highlighted by Abdoulaye Doucoure almost being loaned twice in the space of seven months.

The pitfalls of signing players without the full agreement of the head coach were laid bare last season when Adlene Guedioura, Victor Ibarbo, Alessandro Diamanti, Steven Berghuis and Obbi Oulare made three Premier League starts between them. Doucoure was signed in January, from Rennes, but because there wasn’t room in Quique Sanchez Flores’ squad, he was shipped out to Granada.

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The athletic, leggy midfielder was expected to be a central plank in Walter Mazzarri’s team but, surprisingly, he was not even named in the squad for two of this season’s Premier League matches. Rather than have him spend a season on the periphery, the club tried to arrange a loan move to Lorient but it wasn’t completed in time. It begs the question when exactly it became apparent that he wasn’t going to figure and why the club waited until the 11th hour to fix up a loan move. More significantly, the Doucoure situation does again raise the debate about the merits of picking the players for the head coach to work with.

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“Although we’ve changed managers and changed systems, the procedure is still the same,” said Dowling in an interview with BBC Radio 5live. “The manager will recognise one or two players he likes, the club will recognise one or two players we like, but, ultimately, we’ll sign the best player for the club, whether that’s the one on the manager’s list or one on the club’s list. If there is one we want to sign but the manager doesn’t favour him or isn’t going to play him then it’s stupid for us to sign him as it’s a waste of time. We don’t pick the team.”

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Picture by Paul Dawson

Mazzarri had a big say in the signings of Juan Camilo Zuniga and Brice Dja Djedje and also endorsed the Pozzo-led pursuit of Roberto Pereyra. Had Sanchez Flores stayed, Watford may have gone back in for Matty Phillips, Jefferson Montero and moved for Scott Sinclair, Pablo Sarabia and Raul Albiol.

“This summer it [our recruitment] has changed because the new manager has a different system to the last manager,” said Dowling. “The targets we recognised last season changed slightly as the new manager has come in and wants to play 3-5-2 or something similar. If we were looking at an attacking winger on a permanent [deal], that may not have happened as we are playing with wing backs rather than a 4-4-2, like we did last year.”

Luke Dowling. Picture by Paul Dawson
Luke Dowling. Picture by Paul Dawson

The fact Watford have nine players out on loan, including Aly Malle, Uche Agbo and Pervis Estupinan who are all at Granada, suggest they don’t always get it right or they are stockpiling young talent. Or perhaps even both.

“We signed Steven Berghuis and Oulare,” said Dowling.  “They didn’t get in Quique’s team and weren’t going to feature this year under Walter. We loaned them out as we feel they will benefit the club in the longer term. The reason we have done that [signed them early] is if we wait for them to get to their maximum and reach their potential, then Watford wouldn’t be in the race for them. They’d have moved above Watford. That’s why we have made those signings.”