Watford fans are familiar with change. Since the Pozzo family takeover in 2012, Vicarage road has played home to a handful of head coaches and dozens of players, but the early stages of this transfer window indicate that something different is happening this time around; something to get rather excited about.
It’s the 4th consecutive season in the Premier League for the Hornets; an impressive feat for a club constantly tipped for relegation. But this is the first time they have entered a new campaign with the manager that finished the last one. Javi Gracia entered the hot seat in January 2018 and impressed, not only on the pitch but in the stands, too; changing the sour atmosphere that lingered after Marco Silva’s ugly departure.
Amid rumours of a move back to Spain, Javi Gracia has been backed by the board with time and signings. A full pre-season schedule will allow the Spaniard to get his ideas across efficiently.
Watford have already made five permanent first-team signings across all areas of the pitch. All five transfers have addressed areas of weakness, and in the process, added a physical element to the team that was previously lacking.
Adam Masina will replace Jose Holebas, who turned 34 last month, while 22-year old Marc Navarro enters the team at right-back; an area that Javi Gracia lacked confidence in, having favoured Daryl Janmaat over Kiko Femenia upon arrival.
If Masina and Navarro come into Watford’s back four at 6ft 2 and 6ft 1 respectively, the Hornets may just have the tallest defence in the league. That recruitment is certainly intentional.
Ken Sema is an astute signing (for a reported £3m) from Ostersund, having gained experience of the Europa League and international football last season. His physicality and work-rate are important attributes that will give Watford more bite in midfield.
The other two signings come in the form of Gerard Deulofeu and Ben Foster, players returning to the club after both enjoying loan spells. Foster comes back to Hertfordshire after 12 years apart while Deulofeu couldn’t stay away for more than a couple of months. Both signings improve Gracia’s starting XI for minimal spend.
Although the Hornets haven’t spent big in the current transfer window they seem to have steered away from ageing, short-term signings. Even Ben Foster, at 35, reduces the average age of the squad if Gomes is to depart. Foster’s arrival also gives a platform for prodigy Pontus Dahlberg to improve and get ready to grab the number one shirt in a year or two.
Watford’s aim is to become the ‘best of the rest’ according to CEO Scott Duxbury, and after another disappointing sleepwalk to 40 points in 2017/18, there’s plenty of reason for optimism in WD18 ahead of the upcoming season.