Club developing on and off pitch
26 May ~ Another seven years, another play-off final for Watford. After wins in 1999 and 2006, the end of the 2012-13 season has Hornets fans feeling positive for another big occasion. The team's consistency of the last four years, despite dwindling resources, belies a series of boardroom machinations that could have ended our club on more than one occasion. While the removal of the admired Sean Dyche to make way for Gianfranco Zola as manager in 2012 may have sat uncomfortably, at least there was now a greater chance of the club they supported still being around.
The new manager and his hastily assembled team took a while to click but eventually delivered an attractive passing game. A midfield trio anchored by Swiss playmaker Almen Abdi and 18-year-old Chelsea loanee Nathaniel Chalobah, supported by wing-backs, provide the chances for Troy Deeney and Matej Vydra to score 20-plus goals apiece. While Vydra's run of goals between November and February saw him named Championship Player of the Year, it's Deeney who is the real powerhouse of the team.
When Deeney returned to the side in September, following a prison sentence for affray, I wasn't the only supporter who was uncomfortable with the speed with which he was welcomed back. But the club decided to give him a second chance and he's grabbed it. From the moment his first touch of the season, as a substitute against Bristol City, almost resulted in a goal, he has been the hard-working, determined dynamo of this Watford team and it was entirely appropriate that his emphatic finish capped the astonishing denouement to our play-off semi-final victory against Leicester City.
While pundits, football writers and opposition managers alike have made comments of varying accuracy and snideness at our "loan army", the fact is that we're operating within the rules. There is no "loophole". Our new owners – leading the way to a new method of operating in Serie A – own some footballers and have sent a few to play for Watford. Because an international loan was the best way to do it, that's how it's been done. Just because they are on loan doesn't mean they don't care (the spirit in this team is clear for the home supporters to see) or that it's stifling opportunities for youth development; in the Harefield Academy Watford have one of the best in the country and the owners acted quickly to sign up the best young talent on long-term contracts.
Despite a dip in form, Zola has kept his faith in Vydra, meaning the Messi-lite tricks of Fernando Forestieri are likely to be deployed from the bench, but I'd urge neutral viewers to look out for Chalobah. While inconsistent at times, the confidence and vision he's been displaying in the centre of the pitch have belied his tender years – if he gets a chance to develop at Chelsea he will play for England. Watch out too for Italian veteran Marco Cassetti in the back three. He may be coming to the end of his career but you don't play 143 games for Roma if you're no good and his skill, nonchalant demeanour and bushy beard have made him very popular.
Whether we win or lose on Monday may have an effect on who stays or goes but the expectation is that the vast majority will be signed permanently in the summer. The Udinese model is buying and developing young talent and selling at the top of their value. The financial rewards of the Premier League dwarf those available in Italy, so it's not hard to see that the owners will ensure the eminently likeable Zola will have the resources he needs for the future, whichever division we're in. Andy Myall