Let’s get my spiciest prediction out of the way: if Valerien Ismael keeps Watford in mid-table or above and stays out of the relegation fight all season, he will finish 23/34 as the club’s Head Coach.

I could very well be proven wrong before Christmas, but the vibe I get is that expectations from Gino are at the lowest it’s ever been since he and his family took control of the club. Recruitment has been sensible and frugal, focused more on the out-goings than the in-comings, and there’s been no insinuation of promotion being our ambition this season. Ben Manga talks about having a 5-year contract and hoping to be in the Premier League by the end, so this doesn’t seem like a one-year project for him or Gino.

This is why I believe that success this year for the club from management’s perspective won’t be defined by whether or not we are promoted. Given that, I think Ismael will be given more slack than any previous Watford head coach under Gino in terms of achievements on the pitch. It’s not that the owner’s trigger will be any less quick – it’s just that the criteria that he will judge Ismael by will be a lot different. Simply put, I believe mid-table will be good enough this year if his other expectations are met.

What may those be? Perhaps consolidation in the league with a lower budget? A distinct playing style? Growth of young players? A star emerging that can be sold for a big fee? Not being in a relegation scrap? Look, I can’t read their minds, but for me, while I don’t dare expect these things, whether or not we achieve them will be how I define success this year. And the single biggest litmus test for success this year for me may be this: if Ismael is in the dugout at the Riverside on May 4th for our last match of the season, it would almost certainly have been a successful season to me, one that must have resulted in some manner of progress for the club and the players.

But no, I don’t expect that we achieve most of these things. My only expectation is that Watford plays at least 48 league and cup matches. Aside from that, I can see us achieving none of these things given how the last two years have gone. Part of me knows it’s not rational, but I’m just steeling myself to be hurt again. The first match against QPR, the one that all the pundits have us winning handedly? I think it’ll be a draw. Not because of some thorough analysis of squad strength or how our tactics match up, but just pure, unbridled pessimism.


Phew. That feels better. With Watford’s Championship season kicking off merely hours away, I’ve purged my bad vibes with this post. I’m ready to be hurt again.

Come on you ‘orns!

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