As the early March rain fell on Brendan Rodger’s parade, Watford became the latest side to inflict a morale-sapping defeat on Leicester’s City already frayed campaign.
Going into this game, it was supposed to be the Foxes pressing for that “best of the rest” place. Instead, it was Watford who claimed an impressive 12th victory of the season to keep up with Wolverhampton Wanderers for that newly converted top spot of the mini-league within a league.
There is neither derision nor condescension implied, in reference to that seventh place league slot. In the current climate, it’s actually one hell of an achievement for a club with the relatively modest Premier League means, of Watford, to be in contention for a place just outside big six. They are on course this season, to finish above the likes of Everton, West Ham and Leicester City, themselves big spenders and considerably bigger fish than the Italian owned Hertfordshire club.
A record points tally in the Premier League, a top-eight finish and maybe even an FA Cup Final appearance; all are on the horizon and within reasonable grasp for Javi Garcia’s men. As they proved at home to Leicester with substitute Andre Gray’s late winner, they have real strength in depth now, as well as a core contingent of players battle-hardened after a couple of seasons in the top flight.
However, amidst all this dizzying success and praise the club’s position on the edge of the Premier League’s glass ceiling is more precarious than it looks.
Despite their success this season, the club’s directors and coaching staff would do well to brace themselves. Recent history proves that their simply must take their next steps carefully, if they are to avoid the pitfalls of their peers.
Swansea City, Southampton and of course most recently, Burnley; each of these clubs offers Watford and clubs of their ilk a sobering insight into the bittersweet taste of Premier League success.
The aforementioned predecessors to Watford’s current success each mirrored telling facets of the Hornet’s purple patch. They enjoyed a combination of wonderfully efficient recruitment and an effective, defined style of play which won them plenty of points and admirers.
All three enjoyed at least one season in the top eight as they defied the odds and outdid their larger Premier League rivals. The success they achieved on the pitch though drew in plenty of ominous attention from other clubs, either looking for a new manager or players to plug their own gaps on the pitch.
Southampton, in particular, were raided by the big boys and became something of a conveyer belt of players to be churned out and plucked away from St Mary’s by predatory clubs. This was all well and good in terms of transfer monies received, but the dearth in quality it left behind led to quick-fire recruitment solutions. New players were constantly being blooded and the team lost its verve. Managers began to come and go and all of a sudden relegation is once again a real spectre on the South Coast.
While the Swansea City and Burnley scenarios are not entirely carbon copies, their stories do overlap and converge with Southampton as they too suffered from nosedives in form and success. Watford must be wary as they now approach the same dangerous crossroads.
So far, Watford remains a beacon of success. While the Pozzo Family is happy to hire and fire on the touchline, the nucleus of a very good team has been built up amidst their ever-changing managerial landscape.
The warning signs are already there though, for all to see. The likes of Troy Deeney and Abdouyle Dourcoure have been heavily linked with moves away from Vicarage road in recent times. Whilst the form of Roberto Pereyra and Gerard Duelofeu will have not have escaped the attention of the continent’s scouting network. Watford may be seen as an easy hunting ground for playing talent, especially if their success continues to mushroom this season.
They would no doubt be bolstered by huge transfer sums if the bigger boys did come knocking, however, their squad would also have to be rebuilt and new partnerships reforged on the pitch. Neither of those things happen overnight and results are often the first casualty of any rocky “transition period”.
Watford’s fans have had their expectations risen after this season’s showing. Would they be so patient to tolerate a draining winless run in 2019/20? At Turf Moor this season, there were the first whispers of dissent against Sean Dyce as the club was sucked into the whirlpool of a relegation fight and failed miserably to recapture their form of the previous campaign. These whispers would be much louder at a club without such a loyal bond to its manager.
Watford do at least have a reasonable track record in churning managers. Their Italian owners often seek out continental coaches who bring a reasonable brand of attractive football to Hertfordshire. Any managerial sacking would at least be nothing new for the Hornet’s fan base to endure. It would though be a worry, especially if their best players had already been quarried away.
If they can though, pre-empt these challenges that come with success, they could well establish a blueprint for survival in the hinterlands of the Premier League’s glass ceiling positions. Their next steps in the summer will be crucial to their footing next season.
Ultimately it’s a cruel league and things can crumble at a terrifying pace. No matter how high a club like Watford can reach, they must remember that the fall can be brutal and often fatal.