The twists and turns in this season’s Championship title race have undoubtedly made for a more compelling spectacle in recent weeks than the equivalent in the Premier League.
While Chelsea have had one hand on the tile for weeks, the Championship has swung back forth and forth with four teams still in contention to lift the trophy heading into the penultimate game last weekend.
Since last weekend’s results, only Watford and Bournemouth remain as title candidates, with the Hornets the favourites courtesy of their point advantage over the Cherries in second.
For Watford it caps a remarkable turnaround following a tumultuous start to the season that saw four different men in the hotseat by early October. Serbian Slavisa Jokanovic was the latest appointment and it appears as though his was a matter of fourth time lucky for owner Giampaolo Pozzo, who took over the club in June 2012.
When Pozzo arrived at Vicarage Road three years ago, there were certainly question marks regarding what his intentions were for the club, given his ownership of Serie A’s Udinese and La Liga’s Granada.
Fans became sceptical when popular manager Sean Dyche was sacked soon after the takeover, having guided them to their highest league position in four years the previous season.
A number of players followed Dyche out of the exit door, including solid professionals like Martin Taylor, Adrian Mariappa and Scott Loach, who were swiftly replaced by a raft of loan signings, primarily from Pozzo’s other clubs.
The Pozzo project at Vicarage Road was well underway and it was hard to escape the suspicion that Watford were being treated as a feeder club to Pozzo’s other clubs. Watford's unlikely assault on promotion that year (which included arguably the greatest play-off game of all time against Leicester City) meant that pre-season fears were soon forgotten.
But the club’s steep improvement was questioned by rival managers, who claimed they had gained an unfair advantage in loaning players almost exclusively from Pozzo’s other teams.
This led to the football league introducing caps on the number of loanees from one club to four, as well as reducing the number of loan players allowed in match day squads to five. However, Pozzo simply sidestepped the regulations, moving no fewer than 12 Udinese or Granada players’ contracts over to Watford for free the following season.
Although the trend was reduced last summer with five players taking the well-trodden route to Watford, players such as Matej Vydra and Odion Ighalo have played key roles in Watford’s promotion push.
But unfortunately for Pozzo, Watford’s success this season has not been replicated at his other clubs, as Udinese are currently languishing in 13th in Serie A while Granada look likely to be relegated from La Liga.
It will therefore be fascinating to witness how Pozzo prioritises his three clubs during the summer.
Since 2012, Watford have always been in Udinese and Granada’s shadow, with both performing in their countries top leagues. But with Granada heading towards the Segunda Division and Udinese a far cry from the lofty heights they occupied in Serie A a few years ago, the pendulum of importance may well have swung over to Watford.
With the record-breaking TV deal coming into the Premier League, Pozzo will be desperate to consolidate Watford’s position in the division for as long as possible, which could well mean a change in transfer strategy in his network.
Logically Watford and Granada will likely switch places should the latter go down, with Watford buying players outright and loaning those deemed not ready for the Premier League to the Spanish club.
But with the wealth and global reach of the Premier League well-known, it is not inconceivable that Watford could usurp Udinese as the network’s number one club. Both club’s summer business will give an indication as to Pozzo’s priorities for the season and should Watford splash out the most, their unlikely transformation from feeder to parent club may well be complete.
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