Watford’s success has been nothing if not understated.
Like waking up to find the sun bright outside one’s window in the middle of winter, Watford’s success invites a slight smile but no small amount of bemusement.
For a team whose solid consistency and durable success belied the extent to which they by no means set the Championship alight last season, à la Bournemouth, the Hornets could perhaps have been expected to struggle.
Yet in a Premier League reminiscent of the End of Days, where Jamie Vardy scores for fun and Chelsea sit just two points clear of the relegation zone, Watford have proven a balm of consistency.
This is the key to Watford’s success. For all that we are initially surprised, there is method to be found at Vicarage Road, whose quiet industry and unassuming logic provides a solid bedrock for achievement
It may yet be early days, but with little drama, fanfare or circus, the Hornets have coyly slotted themselves into a top ten berth.
Is this even overachievement? Perhaps not; after all, six of those who started for Watford in their 2-0 victory against Watford were not playing in yellow this time last year. The shrewd summer acquisitions of sixteen new players, from all across Europe, have given Watford almost an entirely new squad.
With a wealth of experience in leagues like Serie A, La Liga and the Bundesliga augmented by the addition of players well acquainted with the less august climes of England, with Nathan Aké and Étienne Capoue featuring regularly this season, ninth seems a reasonable return on a significant investment.
But then, this is Watford’s first season back in the top flight, and navigating the transfer market is no easy task – QPR never managed it on either time of asking. Instead of marquee signings Watford opted for proven talent, with José Holebas, Alessandro Diamanti and José Manuel Jurado having the experience of eighty-two years, seven countries and two continents between them.
Whilst Watford and the M1 have little glamour between them, it seems that the leafy grandeur of the Home Counties has more pull on Europe’s aging stars than ever did Shepherd’s Bush.
Undoubtedly, a large part of Watford’s success can be attributed to their takeover by the Pozzo family in 2012, whose ownership of both Udinese and Granada has seen players like Matěj Vydra, Allan Nyom and Fernando Forestieri take in the sights of Hertfordshire on their sojourns across the Pozzo dominions.
Given that Watford’s success last season was uninterrupted across the spells of four different managers, credit seems due to a wider infrastructure and transfer policy in a manner sure to make the Hornets’ Italian owners smug.
Yet the days of turmoil seem long behind; with little hype, Quique Sánchez Flores is now the second longest serving manager, of five, at Watford since 2013. There are no bust-ups with Odion Ighalo to match the Spaniard’s infamous feud with Diego Forlán at Atlético Madrid (rhough Forlán, it seems, is unlikely to become Watford’s latest signing).
If there is any danger now, it is that heightened coverage of Watford’s artistic, rugged and mercurial coach, with his dark looks and penchant for sweaters, is likely to make people swoon up and down the country.
With stability under Flores, it seems that the last ghost of Pozzo rule is exorcised. For all that the Italians have proven successful and judicious owners, a high turnover of managers, the habitual rotation of players like Vydra across clubs with little concern for continuity and an ‘ever the bridesmaid never the bride’ mentality have caused concern in previous years.
If Watford can survive this year then the Premier League’s greatest experiment may well be proven vindicated.
For all that Watford were decried, in the aftermath of the Pozzo takeover, as a feeder team for Udinese, the Italians have struck the perfect balance of sharing expertise and offering playing time between their multiple possessions.
The temptation to subordinate one to the other has been resisted; now, a triumvirate of clubs in three of Europe’s biggest leagues is a most prestigious and deserved reward.
Nor, despite the attitude towards managers, has the treatment of players this year been anything other than patient.
Having amassed 41 goals between them, a partnership bested only in recent memory by the likes of Luis Suárez and Daniel Sturridge, Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney were the only ones at Vicarage Road immune from the summer overhaul.
Though attacking minded players like Victor Ibarbo and Diamanti were brought in to lighten the load, even as the Hornets struggled to find the net early on in the season they kept faith in their strikeforce.
Now, this patience is paying dividends; Ighalo has settled naturally to life in the Premier League, whilst even Deeney seems to be counteracting suggestions that he can’t quite cut it at the top level.
Their methods may be unorthodox, their mentality unassuming and their connections rooted far beyond the borders of Hertfordshire, but Watford just might be a powerful example to the rest of the Football League.
As the days grow colder and the nights draw closer still, Christmas will be a joyous affair at Vicarage Road, and the Hornets have well earnt their share of turkey.