Taylor plotting prudent route back to summit

Watford manager will not risk his club's solvency in pursuit of Premiership return
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The Independent Football

Real Madrid may have spent a fortune on one player last week, but never let it be said that Watford are getting left behind. Yes, Watford.

Real Madrid may have spent a fortune on one player last week, but never let it be said that Watford are getting left behind. Yes, Watford.

Proof, if any were needed, that summer spending really has reached the levels of madness, a few days after Real spent almost £40m on Luis Figo, the Watford manager, Graham Taylor, yesterday broke his club's rather more modest £1.5m transfer record on Allan Nielsen, of Tottenham, and also signed Espen Baardsen from the same club. However, as the Vicarage Road side face up to a season in the First Division after last year's Premiership relegation, Watford fans need not get too alarmed that Taylor is about to drag the club into the red as the fees for the goalkeeper Baardsen and the midfielder Nielsen might not add up to pay for one of Figo's limbs.

Yet at least Taylor can still claim that his club is rather more solvent than the reigning European champions. Since Taylor returned to Watford in 1996, the club he took to the FA Cup final and second place in the old First Division in the early 1980s, he has tried to run a tight ship financially. Appropriately, he took 22 members of his squad for a run-out on HMS Raleigh this summer. And it was there that he realised that nine of those players had come from the club's youth policy, something that the former England manager feels is essential to Watford's long-term survival. As he said yesterday: "We must keep financing the youth side of things. If you get that policy right then the club will be on the right tracks."

At the same time Taylor is spending money on two Premiership players who are well within the club's budget but whom he also hopes will push Watford on to immediate promotion back to the Premiership. The negotiations for the Danish international Nielsen and the Norwegian Baardsen have been going on all summer and Taylor is confident they will bring the extra ability that Watford lacked last season when they finished bottom of the Premiership with 24 points, the lowest tally in the League's eight-year history. He said: "Baardsen and Nielsen will make a stronger squad. You have to sign players who are better than your current squad. Some players view newcomers as a threat they can't cope with and others will be quite happy to see them and think, 'why didn't I do it last season?' The purchase of these two players sends a message out to the dressing-room that we're here to win matches."

Although Taylor talks about the modest need to stay among what he perceives as the top 30 clubs in the country, it is obvious that ambition still exists within him. He admits that when he left Watford after his first spell at the club, to manage Aston Villa in 1987, he did so in order to strengthen his claims to becoming the England manager. He got his wish then and, as he strengthens his squad now, there is no reason to believe he cannot fulfil his ambition to take the Hornets straight back up.

However, he is warning against optimism: "Bouncing back into the Premiership has to be the aim but we would be silly to say we will do this. I think the hardest thing in football is to stay up in the Premiership and we're now going to try and do the second hardest thing and get promotion from the First Division."

Taylor, who only started working with a contract last season because of Premiership rules, is bullish about Watford's prospects but he still fears that the biggest difficulty his players will face when the season kicks off on 12 August is whether they will be suffering a post-Premiership hangover. He said: "We're going to look at the first month or so and hope that relegation hasn't affected their desire, their commitment and that they can focus on what is required. I hope the Premiership and all the money it's about hasn't given them silly thoughts.

"If they show the right approach I can't see why we shouldn't be one of the clubs that have an opportunity to get back into the Premiership."

Taylor thought yesterday that there were only 22 clubs in the First Division. Once he realises he has omitted two clubs, for the man who steered Watford from the Second Division to the Premiership in successive seasons, everything else should be a stroll in the park.