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Championship Predictions? - too early and too many cooks

Updated: Jun 11, 2022

Millwall supporting Radio host, 6-0-6 founder and Daz Washing powder expert, Danny Baker once described football pundits as people who will tell you before a game why a team can not lose and then tell you after the game exactly why they did lose! I have therefore always, where possible, avoided predictions of matches let alone whole seasons.

What a dreaded moment it is therefore when YBR Editor in Chief Colin Payne sends an email and asks you to draft an article about what we can expect from the forthcoming season! This season of all seasons - 5 hours after the transfer window has opened!

Yesterday, as I write, Rob Edwards gave interviews to FTRE, WD18 and The Athletic and through them all, has reinforced the impression that he is as articulate, charming, engaging and as devilishly handsome as we had all hoped. He also seems genuinely pleased to be here.

On social media however some noticed his comment that whilst there will be some comings and goings – the squad will not see wholesale changes. Many a klaxon will have sounded at this announcement – the most used phrase on the “Do Not Scratch Your Eyes Post Match Twitter Spaces” (an old-style phone in on modern technology) from about the Norwich home game onwards was that the club/squad required a “re-set”

A re-set, for most, meant a chance to clear the decks and correct several seasons of poor recruitment. To remove players who showed little desire to be here before or beyond any given payday. A group of players who had failed to show up for three separate coaches at any stage last season.

Many fans have spoken about a disconnect with the club and there are many reasons why people may feel like that, but I suspect the principal feeling of disconnect will be the record breaking fifteen home defeats that the faithful were put through with little or no attempted resistance or response from either the team or the leadership of the club. The inevitable change of head coach with little or no improvement indicated that either the players were simply not good enough, the senior management do not know how to select a coach or, as many might suspect, both.

So, Rob Edwards words that no wholesale changes are required is an understandable cause for concern. Rob also mentioned Technical Director - Cristiano Giaretta assisting with any required recruitment. For those who do not know Giaretta - he was bought in to replace Filippo Giraldi who many blamed for the lack of defensive recruitment in previous seasons and left in December 2020 taking the fall for relegation and the partly successful but wholly unenjoyable Ivic tenure.

Since Giaretta’s arrival in the summer of 2020 we have signed players of a lower level. This is understandable as we were in the Championship initially and then a newly promoted rather than established Premier League club. Very few however of his signings at whatever level have paid dividends.

Zinkernagel bought in with a great assists and goals record in Norwegian football seemed untrusted in the second half of the promotion season and whilst claiming an impressive number of assists in his few short outings was not trusted at Premier League level and shipped off to Nottingham Forest who we of course have changed places with subsequently.

Troost-Ekong bought in via Udinese required little or no scouting skill on Giaretta’s part. Troost Ekong’s time at Watford has been mixed, a leader off the pitch he is credited with rallying the troops after a dreadful away performance to Coventry at St Andrews, however his off the pitch persona has not been matched by his on-pitch performances. Nervous in possession and often giving the ball away in key areas and with a habit of panicking and misjudging the ball flight in defensive situations he now appears to be a potential asset turned liability with a career defining crisis of confidence issue.

Three “last ditch” signings in January were Dan Gosling who performed an effective cameo role capped with an all-important goal away at Norwich in the Championship to help move us to the cusp of promotion and yet seemingly discarded this season by each head coach in turn, until relegation was confirmed. Since then, the former Bournemouth man has been wheeled out and shown that he could have provided some of what was missing all along.

Carlos Sanchez was recruited from the wilderness to provide more positive cameo roles (especially the home game vs Reading) and Achraf Lazaar was bought in having been released by Newcastle to show exactly why he had been released during the away M1 derby.

In the Premier League recruitment has been as scatter gun as ever and money has been frittered away on Danny Rose, Josh King and Ozan Tufan. The signing of Sissoko has seen a player never short on effort but not the leader that the group was clearly missing nor the creative talent that was clearly missing with Will Hughes and Nathaniel Chalobah no longer able to be retained.

Another rising trend throughout Giaretta’s period has been the agent, Mogi Bayat. Seemingly the agent of choice, he has over seen most transfers in and out of the club with an emphasis on his own preferred markets of Belgium and France. This begs several questions of Giaretta’s role:

1) Does he now focus on recruiting then ensuring the head coach is supported to be successful?

2) What does he do from a transfer perspective if Mogi Bayat is doing the lions share of the transfers?

3) Whatever happened to the “Pozzo Network” – the global scouting network used to uncover previously underappreciated talent?

If he is focusing on assisting/managing the recruited Head Coach, then surely a P45 must be on its way shortly. Three coaches failing to get a tune out of this squad suggests an environment where the players can either put in the effort or simply wait out until the inevitable changing of the guard every 3 months takes place. What did Giaretta do to correct this environment beyond sending a cliché to each arrival upon signing and providing a photo of his family in front of a Christmas Tree? Not a lot and management by twitter rarely, if ever works.

Bayat’s involvement is an even deeper cause for concern, we are used to a different approach under the Pozzo’s - but this gent has a history of shadowy deals where players are moved around Europe with money moving also, to no real benefit to anyone other than the French Iranian Agent. For an example – do you remember Obbi Oulare? No? Not surprising we signed him for €7.5m in 2015, he played three games and a total of 50 minutes for the club before a series of ineffective loan moves to various Belgian/Dutch clubs before selling him to Standard Liege for €3.4m. Each loan (4) and transfer’s in and out earned a fee for his agent – one Mogi Bayat whilst losing the Hornets €4.1m – this meant that Obbi Oulare cost us €82,000 per minute in transfer fees alone.

The Oulare example was not on Giaretta’s watch but we are moving closer to this guy. This begs the question what is Giaretta bringing to the table in terms of contacts and player identification? Not a lot is the answer, and the Pozzo network players do seem to be less prevalent at Vicarage Road these days.

Louza, Dennis and Kamara have been the notable but flawed exceptions to the rule. Louza took a long time to acclimatize but showed enough to give the crowd hope – his status only amplified by Hodgson’s persistent and irritating subbing of him.

Dennis started off like a train but seemed to tail off after his appearance at AFCON was denied and his lack of passing seemed to speak to someone who whilst always able to make things happen tended to be in it for himself.

Kamara won the player of the season award following wholehearted displays and an interaction with the fans that other players should learn from – he seemed genuinely happy to get a chance to play even if it were to prove his worth for a potential move elsewhere.

So, will Rob Edwards succeed? Will the season be positive? At this moment we simply do not know. Nothing predicts future performance as well as past performance. We were promoted last time we were in the Championship. The Director of Football is completely ineffective. Our shiny new articulate manager has recently been promoted and seems a good appointment. Our recruitment is hamstrung by an individual who does not have the clubs’ best interests at heart. Oh, and the squad that showed so little character that they failed to provide even a modicum of resistance last season are still in place. The championship is a more forgiving environment.

Rob Edwards will be justifiably confident in his ability to get a tune out of these players but so were Xisco, Claudio and Roy…….

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