Lee-Price-July

The term ‘World XI’ and Watford FC might appear to be as dubious a partnership as Roy Evans and Gerard Houllier, but the newly promoted Premier League outfit are notorious for their global range of players.

Loading up their squad list at the start of Soccer Manager 2016 reveals an astonishing TWENTY THREE different nationalities.

There are more tongues in the dressing room than a youth disco.

Which prompts the obvious challenge – give the Watford squad a homegrown overhaul, while avoiding relegation.

Without wanting to sound like a questionable UKIP campaign, my mission is to transform the Hornets’s line-up to contain players solely from English, Scottish, Irish, Welsh or Northern Irish backgrounds.

It’s something approaching mission impossible – I’m no Tom Cruise, but I am similarly diminutive, which should qualify me for a starring role.

This is my diary as I play through the challenge.

 

JULY

I’ve told the Pozzo family of my masterplan and, frankly, they seem a little baffled – ‘we won’t get relegated, right?’ is their constant refrain.

Beneath the table, I’m sure I see owner Gino scrolling through his phone for Quique Sanchez Flores’s number, to see if it’s not too late for an about-turn.

But, be it through enthusiasm or boring them into submission, I survive the inaugural meeting, which brings the reward of a £10 million transfer budget.

“Just keep us up,” he repeats as I close the boardroom door.

Easier said than done, especially as just four of the current first team squad meet my selection criteria – English duo Ben Watson and captain Troy Deeney, Scot Ikechi Anya, plus Northern Irish defender Craig Cathcart.

Clearly keen to make a good first impression, I immediately transfer list everyone else, while promoting forgotten man Lloyd Dyer (83), Irish defender Tommie Hoban (82), and back up keeper Rene Gilmartin (77) from the reserves.

Lloyd Doyley protests that he’s London-born, and been at Watford his entire career, but this is no time for sentiment – the Jamaican international is made available for transfer, too.

He’s got it easy. Loan trio Alessandro Diamanti, Victor Ibarbo and Nathan Ake have a season of reserve team football to look forward to.

It leaves my first team squad extremely thin on the ground, but at least the first training session can be intensive and personalised – though the three-on-three mini-game we finish with borders on the shambolic.

Clearly, I need reinforcements – and head straight to my office.

There, I look up the latest list of free agents – which makes my squad look high class – and players made available for transfer.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a paucity of superstars available – with enquiries made for anyone rated 85 or above, a lower benchmark than I’d intended.

Approximately twenty bids are tabled, although not with any particular cohesion – at least seven of them are for centre backs.

And, while Ashley Cole is ruled out for being too old, and Seamus Coleman for being too extravagantly priced, offers are made for Steven Gerrard and John Stones.

Cut-price deals are completed for transfer listed duo James McArthur and Callum McManaman (both 85), who go straight into the starting line up for my first match in charge – a friendly with MK Dons.

Even with filling my squad with youth team players, I can’t select an entirely ‘homegrown’ squad – with Allan Nyom starting at right back, and four outsiders on the bench.

I select a 4-2-3-1 formation, though, with three out-and-out wingers, this means playing someone out of position, with Anya given the number ten role.

McManaman marks his debut with the only goal of the game, and Hoban is a surprise man of the match, but we’re well outplayed.

Phil Jagielka arrives to give my squad its first 90-rated player, while Neil Taylor (87) and Adam Matthews (86) are also captured. With only three of the foreign legion dispatched, though, generating just £3 million in sales, I’m out of cash.

I’m in a ‘sell before you can buy’ scenario, despite more than £60 million’s worth of players sitting in the reserves.

But the squad is down to just two non-HG players for a narrow win over League Two side Torquay, with McManaman taking his tally to two in two.

The sale of Nyom (88), to Fleetwood Town incredibly, raises £4 million, which I vow to spend on a goalkeeper, but seemingly none are available.

I’m forced to resort to Paul Robinson (82), aged 35, on a free transfer, though I reassure myself that he’s to be second choice once I’ve cleared out the deadwood.

Steven Davis (88) arrives from Southampton to mean that, by the end of July, I finally have a matchday squad that is entirely homegrown.

As July comes to an end, with just a week until the Premier League season kicks off, Watford still have 15 players remaining on the transfer list.

And shifting them will be key to my mission having any remote chance of success.

See what further signing s I make, and how Watford take to life in the Premier League shorn of their stars, in the next installment, August.

 

About the author – Lee Price

Lee Price is a journalist and author with a passion for football, and crucially, virtual football management.

twitter: @Lee_Price

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