Today, we are taking a trip to the banks of the River Colne and examining a 142-year-old club in Hertfordshire, a team that is nicknamed the Hornets despite having a male deer in its logo. I am talking about, of course, Watford Football Club.
Watford were languishing in the fourth tier when lifelong fan and musical legend Elton John acquired them and led them to the top-flight by 1982. The 1982/83 season saw the finish second to Liverpool and one year later, Everton defeated them in the FA Cup Final. This same season would see Watford compete in Europe for the first and only time in the club’s history as well as finish 11th in the table.
A dark spell followed where the club bounced between divisions and experienced debt and instability with two solitary seasons spent in the top tier in 2001 and 2007, when Ashley Young came through the ranks. The ownership situation changed over the years with Elton John selling the club in 1987 but staying on as president before repurchasing the club ten years later and stepping down in 2002. He still has a financial involvement in the club; however, it is far from a majority shareholder.
The early 2010s saw the club managed by Brendan Rodgers and Sean Dyche, whose dismissal coincided with the acquisition of the club by the Pozzo family through Gino Pozzo. Gino’s father Giampaolo, who is the owner of Udinese and Granada FC, made the fortunes of the family. Gino left college in his 20s to become a scout and has built a career out of finding and developing young talents, who are relatively inexpensive but have a high hit or miss rate, with the small sums invested in them proving either cheap mistakes on in some cases golden tickets.
This approach, which is very glowingly reported on in some instances, was to be implemented at Watford and initially it proved successful, with the club gaining promotion in 2015. Another philosophy implemented was a seemingly never-ending managerial game of musical chairs, the club employing 21 managers in roughly 10 years of ownership, which translates to two managers per season.
Gino is reportedly very involved in the day-to-day running of the team being regularly spotted at the training ground, which maybe explains this tinkering with managers that never seems to stop. Despite the insanity at board level the club’s recruitment saw them acquire the likes of Abdoulaye Doucoure, Etienne Capoue, Gerard Deulofeu and Richarlison amongst scores of players bought and sold each season.
The pinnacle of this carrousel was achieved at the end of the 2019 season when Watford achieved their record points tally in the Premier League and reached the FA Cup final where city routed them 6-0. However, as with any fun park ride, the downhill portion would be truly frightening. Javi Gracia was sacked after just four games into the next season with Quique Sánchez Flores being appointed after just 30 minutes.
Two more managers and a shocking win over Liverpool, which ended the Reds’ 44-game unbeaten streak, and Watford were relegated. They immediately bounced back only to go down again, employing nine managers in that time. As of right now the club finds itself in 124 million pounds of debt with multiple loans being taken out against the club, the stadium and the holding company by the owners.
With the owners seeming shadier and shadier each day, enter stage left French-Iranian agent Arnaud Mogi Bayat. The man, who is often seen next to Pozzo at games and is currently facing charges of money laundering and fraud in Belgium, has been involved with a staggering number of transfers made by Watford and is somehow still allowed to operate in the footballing world. Watford fans have just about had enough of their club slowly descending into madness and protests are springing up more and more often at games.
This season Joao Pedro has already been sold to Brighton Hove & Albion, and one could assume that Ismaila Sarr will also be depart Vicarage Road, having been linked with a move away in every transfer season for the past few years. With the huge amount of debt, the squad risks being picked apart and Watford might have to pick up the smoldering pieces in League One or Two.
By: Eduard Holdis / @He_Ftbl
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Getty Images