Connect in the back of the net

With the confirmation that Walter Mazzarri is to become Watford’s new head coach came a stark reminder of how his new employers operate.

The club’s chief executive Scott Duxbury used all the usual platitudes that come with managerial statements but the “thoroughly looking forward to working with such a highly regarded coach” came with the conditional “with the progress and development of the club always remaining the highest priority”.

Mazzarri is the seventh name to sit in the Vicarage Road dugout since the Pozzo family took control of Watford in 2012 and given the way the owners like to make use of short-term contracts with inserted break clauses, like the one that has just done for Quique Sanchez Flores, the Italian will be excused for not making himself too familiar with Hertfordshire life.

The decision to dispense with Flores, who kept the newly-promoted Hornets in the top-flight with a cushion of 8 points and took them to the semi-final of the FA Cup, and the words of Duxbury give an insight into owners with burning ambitions and a ruthless attitude towards managers who do not match them.

Only 16 of Watford’s 45 points were taken in the second half of the season and, fearing a second season of stagnation or even worse struggle, they immediately sought a manager capable of taking them upwards.

Flores’s work attracted staunch criticism over his treatment but given the context it is not difficult to understand Pozzo’s pragmatic rationale; players are often upgraded without a fuss so it shouldn’t be a major surprise to see it being applied to managers.

 

The man to take them to the next step

Into the top 10 is the target and Mazzarri is supposedly the man to deliver it. It is the 54 year-old’s first job outside of Italy and he has been out of work for 18 months, having been sacked by Inter Milan in November 2014, but the Pozzo vision for the future has proven too attractive for the former Napoli coach to turn down.

“He chose the quality of the project and his faith in the Pozzo family ahead of other offers” said his agent Andrea D’Amico.

A three year contract, though with the chances of a long-term stay at Watford remaining slim, is understood to be a return of that faith and, having spent time over the past year adjusting to life in England with a different family in a bid to become fluent in the language his work begins in earnest on July 1st.

Seven of Mazzarri’s trusted coaching staff from his days with Napoli and Inter have been permitted to join him in England and the Pozzos have also allowed the Italian to add two more to his backroom entourage. They will be prioritised with providing an upturn in results while gelling the new signings with the existing group of players.

It is understood that Watford’s transfer policy will continue to be orchestrated by Gino Pozzo, owner of the club and son of the family’s head Giampaolo, and sporting director Luke Dowling, with Mazzarri offered limited input.

 

Style and possible targets

Mazzarri is a devotee to the three-man defence system- which can be shaped in a 3-5-2, 3-4-1-2 or 3-4-3- he used at Napoli and took with him to Inter only to see it lead to his downfall as criticism grew over his negativity.

Though it is hoped that his expertise of swift counter-attacking, honed in the halcyon days of Edinson Cavani, Marek Hamsik and Ezequiel Lavezzi in Naples, will fit into a division where Leicester have just triumphed.

Nathan Ake is due to return to Chelsea after a productive loan spell on the left of Flores’s back four so high on the list of new targets will be a replacement able to play further forward as a wing-back, as well as another central defender to ease the shift in formation.

Inter Milan’s Juan Jesus, able to play at centre-half or at left-back, has been linked and would be a welcome addition given Joel Ekstrand’s impending release means Craig Cathcart, Sebastian Prodl and Miguel Britos are Watford’s only remaining senior central defenders.

The signing of Liverpool’s Jerome Sinclair, for a fee due to be settled in tribunal, has already been secured, while Abdoulaye Doucare and Adalberto Penaranda, signed for a combined total of £15 million in January and loaned straight to Pozzo’s other club Granada, will also come to England in time for pre-season.

However there is unlikely to be a repeat of last season’s transfer splurge that saw 15 players arrive in the summer and a further five in January.

 

Tapping into potential

Mazzarri will be tasked with getting more out of the likes of Steven Berghuis, who failed to make a start for Watford following his £5 million from AZ Alkmaar, Nordin Amrabat and Mario Suarez, who both made minimal impact after their respective January arrivals. Valon Behrami featured only sporadically under Flores but having played under Mazzarri at Napoli he is said to be excited at the prospect of linking back up with him.

Given the £6.17 million investment, more will be expected of the 20 year old Mamadou Oulare than the two substitute appearances he managed last season and he will have to be looked at as potential foil for Odion Ighalo who struggled for goals in the second half of last term.

Those goals were not replaced when they dried up and Mazzarri has to find a way to ease the burden on the Nigerian. The strength, awareness and clever link-up play of Troy Deeney meanwhile is ideally suited to the role of playing behind the front two at the tip of a midfield quintet.

The Italian however has to address the fact that Watford’s next-highest scoring tally last term after Ighalo, 15, and Deeney, 13, was a measly two.

There is plenty for Mazzarri to occupy himself with at Watford but it is clear that he must do it with the progression of the club in mind or find himself joining his list of predecessors as part of the recent Pozzo history.

 

Walking the tightrope

Mazzarri has triumphed against the odds before, earning promotion to Serie A with Livorno before moving to Reggina and keeping them in the top-flight for three years running. Then came UEFA Cup football and a Coppa Italia final with Sampdoria, eventually winning the latter with Napoli in 2013, the year after he guided the Partenopei to 2nd in the league.

It is a respectable C.V, but walking the tightrope between lofty ambitions and ruthless owners is set to be the fiercest examination of his credentials.

 

Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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