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Upon reaching to the Premier League Watford embarked on a summer recruitment drive that brought in 15 players and also changed their manager, sacking Slavisa Jokanovic, despite being promote under the Serb, and replacing him with Quique Sanchez Flores.
Flores had no previous experience of English football and neither did 10 of the 15 arrivals; only Alessandro Diamanti and Valon Behrami, both previously cast aside by West Ham, Etienne Capoue, pushed out of Mauricio Pochettino’s revolution at Spurs, Crystal Palace’s Adlene Guedioura and Chelsea’s 20 year old Nathan Ake, joining on loan from Chelsea having been handed just one start for the Blues across four seasons, were familiar with the demands of the English game.
The Watford-owning Pozzo family’s contacts from across Europe, plus their ownership of Granada of Spain and Udinese of Italy, laid behind it and it was difficult to envisage the multi-national scattergun approach forming a squad that would be cohesive enough to survive in the top-flight.
Yet with 14 games gone the Hornets are 11th on 19 points and are closer to the top four than they are to the bottom three. The game that put them there, against Aston Villa which recorded a 2-3 victory, was started with 10 different nationalities and of the 22 players given league appearances by Flores so far this term, 20 different nationalities have been represented. It is maybe no surprise to learn Watford’s cosmopolitan side are the most diverse team in the league.
Only two English players have been used by Flores, Ben Watson and Troy Deeney, but it is the latter who to the Spanish coach believes is the most important.
Despite the swathe of new faces and the period of upheaval, Deeney has remained in situ since 2010, two years before the wealthy Italian family rescued Watford from the brink of financial ruin, and has thrived since their takeover, scoring 66 goals in the last three seasons including 21 in the promotion campaign of last term. This season, despite a slow start which yielded no goals from his opening nine games, four have followed in his last five games.
That run of form has repaid the faith shown in him by Flores who refused to drop the striker during his barren-run. That is in itself testament to the regard in which the manager holds Deeney, his captain and the player he calls the “soul of the team”.
He has used that line for the 27-year old twice this season, once after his goal opened up a 0-2 win at Stoke and after his penalty secured a late equaliser against Manchester United.
Watford would still go on to lose that game thanks to a last-minute own goal from Deeney but Flores refused to pin any responsibility on his striker.
“He represents values that we want for ourselves at Watford”, the Spaniard said. “He’s fighting all the time, he’s pushing his team-mates all the time, he’s everywhere on the pitch, so he’s very important for us.”
That staunch defence was immediately rewarded by Deeney in the form of what he called a “better than a dream goal” strike to win the game at Villa in front of the Holte end. The striker, as a Birmingham City fan, had trials at Villa as a teenager but was not offered terms, something he wanted payback for on Saturday.
“To do it in front of the Holte End, with 1,000s swearing at me will be lovely!” he said before the game and he managed it with a committed header after Odion Ighalo’s effort had looped up above a group of dawdling Villa defenders.
It is the destructive partnership that Deeney has forged with Ighalo, who hit 41 goals between them last term and have tallied 12 already this time around, that has been the main feature behind Watford’s rise.
“I can’t tell you what it is that works, but it does” said Deeney of the partnership that Flores believes is one of the best in the Premier League.
Their understanding has allowed the coach to switch between 4-2-3-1, with the much-improved Capoue shielding the defence behind the forward line and Deeney lying just behind his Nigerian partner, and 4-4-2 when he wishes to be more attacking.
Deeney’s own individual role has changed in that he is no longer the target man that provided the focal point of last year’s promotion charge, but a more intelligent supporting act for Ighalo’s incisive running. He has adapted to those demands superbly, creating 18 chances, only Almen Abdi has carved out more in this Watford squad with 22, and registering three assists, the most in the squad.
One of them came with a brilliant take-down of a long-ball and an intricate through-ball for Ighalo against Newcastle, a move that Deeney said is owed to beating Fabricio Coloccini in the air early on in the game.
“Premier League players are a lot cleverer, but they don’t like being roughed up” says the striker “they’re not used to that”.
Averaging 80 long balls per game, the most in the Premier League, Deeney’s ability to pluck the ball out of the air and create something with it in attacking areas is vital to the Watford cause and only Aston Villa’s Rudy Gestede has won more aerial duels than Deeney’s 76.
Watford have the bonus of having a striker immensely effective in the air, strong enough to dish out the rough treatment while also being nifty with the ball at his feet, it is no wonder why Flores values him so much.
It is also little wonder why Watford stuck by him after he was sentenced to 10 months in prison for affray in June 2012, the same month the Pozzo family took control at Watford. The Italians would have been forgiven for wanting Deeney off the payroll as they settled in at Vicarage Road but they stood by him and continue to be repaid in spectacular fashion.
Now 27 and becoming a regular Premier League scorer, Deeney holds further ambitions to become an international player, having twice turned down Jamaica and Ireland in the hope he will catch the eye of an England manager, within the next five years.
Carry on in the same vein for Watford and that target will be achieved much sooner.
Written by Adam Gray
Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250
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