Look away now, Roy Hodgson. The strategic principles and insti-tutional difficulties of English football cannot compete with tribal pride and individual ambition. Watford fans are in such a state of self-imposed grace they would accept a Martian midfield player without a murmur.
As it is, their newly promoted side featured a solitary Englishman, captain Troy Deeney, for their second successive draw following an eight-year absence from the Premier League. They were cheered to the echo, despite the lack of an end product.
West Bromwich Albion had, in Craig Dawson and Saido Berahino, players deeply embedded in England’s development system, but were an eyesore. They passed abysmally, retained possession intermittently and played with a damning lack of sophistication.
Tony Pulis, their manager, spoke patronisingly about it being Watford’s “Cup final” and promised “a lot of business, in and out” before the window closes. “It is a period of transition,” he rationalised. “Hopefully it will gel properly and we can move forward.”
Quique Sanchez Flores, Watford’s fifth head coach in 10 months, was measured and urbane. He was happy with a point, spoke of “working with passion” and emphasised his love of the culture of English football. “I have wished to be here for some time,” he said.
The history books offered thought-provoking perspective. Watford defeated WBA 3-0 on 11 September 1982 to go to the top of the old First Division for the first and only time. They were a different club, which represented different priorities, philosophies and principles in an altogether different era.
Watford’s new model featured a starting XI of as many nationalities. They have players from a dozen additional countries to spare. Since they must trim their number of imports to 17 in the next fortnight, the nature of the owners’ business is pertinent. The Pozzo family are attempting to link the generations with such populist gestures as naming stands after Elton John and Graham Taylor, catalysts of the club’s initial rise from the depths. They seek to foster a community spirit, yet their business principles, driven by a global scouting network and aligned to clubs such as Udinese, in Serie A, and Granada, in La Liga, are paramount.
Nothing wrong in that, if you take the narrow view, yet Watford no longer place their faith in a credo which highlighted the talent of such home-grown coaches as Aidy Boothroyd, Brendan Rodgers, Sean Dyche, Mark Warburton, Malky Mackay and Chris Powell.
Flores has an impressive pedigree, having won the Europa League with Atletico Madrid and taken Valencia to the Champions League quarter-finals. He insists the primary language of the dressing room must be English, though he suggests the overwhelming number of foreign players will be beneficial.
The collection of strangers which will eventually coalesce into his team contains players of poise and quality. Comfortable on the ball and assertive on the counterattack, they looked assured without having the clinical edge in attack that tends to be required to avoid a protracted relegation struggle.
Their multicultural, multinational melting pot is being stirred slowly, and seasoned to taste with yet more recruits. Dutch Under-21 international Nathan Ake, another of Chelsea’s legion of loanees, arrived on Friday as Watford’s 12th summer signing. He will be employed as a left-back or central defender.
Jose Jurado, whose tendency was to drift wide from a nominal starting position in central midfield, lived up to the promise of an exotic CV that highlights spells at Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid, Schalke and Spartak Moscow.
He combined well with Ikechi Anya on the left and embarrassed Gareth McAuley with a nutmeg which had a matador’s flourish. Anya and the other full-back, the Cameroonian Allan Nyom, will cause problems with their pace and directness.
Despite the pressure, Boaz Myhill had few alarms before Watford’s tempo dropped in the latter stages. They were fortunate to avoid an expensive lesson with nine minutes remaining, when Albion, who had failed to fashion a shot on target, cleverly worked a short corner. Chris Brunt’s cross was nodded back to Berahino, who headed wide from four yards.
“He was disappointed in himself afterwards,” said Pulis. “He’s a good player, and that shows he thought he should have scored.” Berahino’s asking price, incidentally, is £15 million. A snip for an England Under-21 regular? Let the market decide.
Watford: (4-2-3-1) Gomes; Nyam, Prödl, Cathcart, Anya; Behrami, Capoue; Layun (Abdi, 55), Ighalo, Jurado (Berghuis, 86); Deeney.
West Bromwich: (4-2-3-1) Myhill; Dawson, McAuley, Olsson, Brunt; Yacob, Fletcher; Gardner (Rondon, 61), Berahino (McManaman, 90), Morrison; Lambert (McClean, 69).
Referee: Paul Tierney.
Man of the match: Jurado (Watford)
Match rating: 5/10Reuse content