The Pozzo Era
2012 to date:
The Pozzos brought a new model of ownership to English football. They had sold the family business and gone into football, acquiring the Italian club Udinese in the 1980s, and more recently Granada in Spain. They had been successful with both. Udinese was a small club compared to the giants of Italian football, but had remained in Serie A throughout their tenure; Granada had climbed rapidly from the third tier up to La Liga. Among other features, the model involved an extensive worldwide scouting network and the identification and development of players who were sold on at a profit to fund reinvestment.
A large number of new players soon arrived. Many were contracted to Udinese or Granada and joined Watford on loan, largely for reasons of convenience due to the limited time available in putting a squad together for the 2012-13 season, an approach which some observers thought controversial. Gianfranco Zola was appointed as head coach, and adopted an attacking style of play. Watford were comfortably the Championship’s top scorers with 85 goals and operated in the upper reaches all season, but missed out on automatic promotion thanks to ill-fortune in the final home game against Leeds.
Italy and Chelsea legend Gianfranco Zola was the first appointment of the Pozzo era
The consequent “here’s Hogg…Deeney!” experience in the home leg of the play-off semi-final against Leicester will be remembered forever by those who watched it. However the play-off final against Crystal Palace brought disappointment.
The 2013-14 season was less memorable. Perhaps there was a play-off hangover. Zola left mid-season, replaced by Beppe Sannino, and the final table showed Watford in 13th place.
2014-15 was a different story. The squad was re-stocked, and survived a series of changes of head coach in the autumn – Sannino, then Oscar Garcia, then (due to Garcia’s ill-health) Billy McKinlay, finally Slavisa Jokanovic. Things really clicked in the new year. Performances were impressive and progress relentless: the final 21 games included 15 wins and three draws. Odion Ighalo hit the form of his life, and with Troy Deeney and Matej Vydra also providing plenty of goals, automatic promotion was achieved with a game to spare. Watford were back in the Premier League.
Matej Vydra's winning goal resulted in top-flight football for the Hornets for the first time since 2006-07
Meanwhile the Pozzos were making the long-overdue improvements to the stadium. The Rous Stand was re-named after Graham Taylor, and during 2014-15 the main stand and its extension, condemned some years earlier, were replaced with the new Sir Elton John Stand. The corporate facilities were then enhanced, and the Sensory Room followed. Vicarage Road was now fit for purpose as a smart, compact stadium hosting Premier League football.
Despite many predicting a third single-season stay in the Premier League, Watford soon found their feet. The squad was upgraded, and Quique Sanchez Flores hired as coach. A memorable 3-0 home win over Liverpool reminded fans from the 1980s of what things used to be like when Watford overturned the big teams, and the Hornets stood in 7th place at Christmas. The second half of the season proved harder going, but 45 points were enough to secure 13th place. An FA Cup run saw Watford reach the semi-final only to bow out with another Wembley disappointment against Crystal Palace, but the 2-1 victory away to Arsenal in the sixth round was the season’s highlight for many, with Adlène Guedioura’s goal a glorious moment of power and beauty.
Odion Ighalo and Troy Deeney took the Premier League by surprise in 2015/16
2016-17 followed a similar pattern. There was a new coach, in Walter Mazzarri. Results were impressive up to December, featuring the first wins over Manchester United, Everton and the reigning champions (Leicester) for 30 years.
A memorable victory over Manchester United at Vicarage Road was largely down to the substitute appearance of Camilo Zúñiga
There was also a drop-off in performances thereafter: Watford reached the 40-point mark usually considered the target for survival with six games to spare, but lost all of those games to finish in 17th position. Even so, they had secured a third year in the top-flight.
Graham Taylor's passing shocked and saddened the football world, but it was particularly felt at a club that owed him so much
The saddest moment in the season was the death of Graham Taylor in January 2017. His loss was keenly felt at the time, and remains so. It feels appropriate that, at the time of his passing, Watford’s status in English football had returned to the level of his greatest years.
Once again, 2017-18 saw Watford make an encouraging start, then drop back, but finish in mid-table. The team produced some vibrant football early on under new coach Marco Silva, with the highlight a televised 2-1 home win over Arsenal.
Daryl Janmaat won the club's Goal of the Season award for his fine run and finish against Chelsea at Vicarage Road in February 2018
But performances declined as autumn turned into winter, and Silva was replaced as coach with Javi Gracia. Watford beat reigning champions Chelsea 4-1 early in Gracia’s tenure, and the team finished the season safely in 14th place with 41 points.