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BLIND, STUPID AND DESPERATE
 
Editorials:
Star-gazing
By Dave Turnbull
 
In my pre-Christmas article, I put forward some views concerning the various aspects of Watford's performance in the Premiership. This piece will expand on some of those themes.

The conclusion to my previous thoughts included the assertion that the only hope of survival lay with the capture of a reliable central defender. Now, however, I concur with ig's conclusion in his Bradford report - Watford are gone for all money!

Now I want to explore possibilities for next term. I believe this to be particularly time-critical and I would cite two names as part of the discussion - Sunderland and Leicester. These teams have and will continue be mentioned in dispatches as rare examples of sides that have come into the Premiership and survived. The crucial thing as far as we are concerned is that both yo-yoed up and down before gaining a solid toehold.

Looking at it simplistically, if a team comes up initially with five Premiership quality players - as I believe Watford have (prepared to listen to arguments over the exact number) - and gets relegated, then depending on the duration of contracts etc, the trick is to come up within the next couple of seasons, with maybe seven or eight of the right calibre. Maybe Charlton are set to join this group.

Even if Watford did it again with five, replacing six is too difficult and disruptive not to say expensive (in one hit) . The last successful exponents of this policy were Blackburn and they spent 20m plus!

Following this rationale, if Watford need three extra top players, which areas do they go for? As always in these circumstances, things are not clear-cut, mainly because the five deficient players may not be in five bodies. Some players may be 20% deficient, others 30% etc, and all the other factors such as team balance and player improvement come into the equation. However, you can't replace part of a player so I'll give it a go!

Let's start with my old favourite - central defence. Last season Watford (using mainly Palmer and Page) were the eighth most frugal defence with fifty-six goals against. Bury, who were relegated, let in sixty! Given the huge hike in standards it's perhaps not surprising that the same combination is now set to let in eighty. As always in these circumstances, loss of confidence accentuates the problem. Despite this, my belief is that, in the long term, Page can play in the top flight.

The need then is for a centre half and I am talking big! Too often this term we have simply been unable to clear the ball effectively from crosses and we rarely do damage from corners and free kicks. Virtually all the other teams have one or two 6'3" defenders (Wimbledon have about ten!).

As I mentioned in my last piece, Matt Elliott and Gerry Taggart successfully made the transition (I forget the cost). So maybe a trawl through the top end of the Nationwide is worthwhile. On the other hand maybe someone like Martin Keown might be interested. Someone like that is probably settled with a young family in north London and may be prepared to take a limited pay cut for a three year deal. Although I would not include a full back in my 'must replace' group, guys like Dixon and Winterburn should not be ignored. The latter has young kids at school in Berkhampstead.

My second position is goalkeeper. Sadly, I believe the hero of St Andrews is past his best. I think Watford may be four or five goals better off this term with a top keeper.

Lastly, I would go for a striker. Helguson looks like a good prospect and Gravelaine would probably get twenty in the Nationwide, but I suspect his loan will end with Watford's Premiership wage structure. This is my least certain area because I think GNW and Allan Smart may do the business given an injury-free run. Only GT knows the full story there!

I could go on for a few more pages discussing the potential of people Like Ward and Tommy Smith (et al?) . However, I have deliberately kept the argument simple, mainly because, optimistically, I envisage a short term plan. Anybody not mentioned are not significant factors in my current estimation.

So, what about the big question - funding. It is, of course, impossible to be precise, but given GT's penchant for shrewd buys and based on his own comments regarding the money for Helguson, I would estimate that roughly 4M needs to be invested before the return of Grimsby and Stockport. I guess this is big time for a club like Watford, even with the TV 'parachute' money. Of course, if the deals are right then the sell-on value can be a big factor. How much will Helguson be worth if he gets fifteen by next Xmas?

The bottom line is whether the club's current funding structure is capable of underwriting such a sum. Over to you, Mr Wray. I ask this question with no hint of a suggestion that the money must be provided at all costs. I am, like many, s**t scared of a Palace scenario.

If this article has appeared mildly critical of some of the decisions that have been made, then let me say that I could not have written it in July - hindsight is a lot easier and less valuable than foresight.

I know all of this looks a bit glib and simplistic (to me, let alone you!) but I believe that is the only way to unravel complex situations and judgements to be made.

(Date: 28/1/00)