COMMENT: Next two months crucial for assessing if Nani is worth the money (From This Is Local London)
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COMMENT: Next two months crucial for assessing if Gian Luca Nani is worth the money
The final two months of this season could reveal a lot about the job being done by Watford's technical director Gian Luca Nani.
The Hornets' were agonisingly close to securing promotion last summer on two occasions and signings like Almen Abdi, Matej Vydra and Manuel Almunia were a crucial part of that success.
Heading into this season, the pressure was off Nani and the Pozzos' scouting network. After all, the Golden Boys had exceeded everyone's expectations in the first year under a new regime and with a host of players plying their trade in English football for the first time.
Commercially, chief executive Scott Duxbury appears to be doing a good job and the Pozzos have a track record of success in Italian and Spanish football, which has been based on their much-lauded scouting network.
But with the Hornets underachieving so far this season, the pressure and criticism has increased among some supporters. The management, players and even us in the local media are under the spotlight more than they were 12 months ago. Nani, the man who is said to be in charge of the club's recruitment, is the one under the most scrutiny.
There were issues with the club's recruitment last summer. There appeared to be a scatter-gun approach to signings as the club made 16 additions during the summer window, which left Gianfranco Zola with 39 professionals to look after for a while. It caused problems during training but Zola was not the type of person to openly criticise his employers, and in Nani’s case his friend. But he did admit the number of signings was "not ideal" and left him with a "not normal" number of players to manage.
The club stressed the high number of additions was aimed to give Zola the best chance of success and that the delay in the takeover was also a contributing factor.
There were four noticeable flops in the shape of Neuton, Jean-Alain Fanchone, Geoffrey Mujangi Bia and Steve Leo Beleck but it wasn't a concern as the likes of Marco Cassetti, Fernando Forestieri, Vydra, Abdi et al overshadowed the negatives. And ultimately, some signings don't work. Sean Dyche, Malky Mackay, Brendan Rodgers - they all had them.
Yet it has been the quantity of unsuccessful signings which has been the issue this season. Out of the ten new additions in the summer - excluding the loanees from last season - only Gabriele Angella, Davide Faraoni and Lewis McGugan have been regular starters. Although it is worth noting that important players like Ikechi Anya and Cristian Battocchio took time to make their impact during the 2012/13 campaign.
I have some sympathy for the Hornets' management team as on paper players such as Iriney, with ten years La Liga experience, Javier Acuna, who was being looked at by other Championship clubs, and Diego Fabbrini, an Italian international, arguably should have made an impact.
But a big part of a head of recruitment's job is to find out if the players are suitable. What positions need filling? What kind of personality are they? Will the player easily adapt to life in a new environment and style of football? The answer to those types of questions may have been sought but the fact three of the summer signings were shipped out on loan six months later does not look good.
The balance of the squad was also wrong earlier in the campaign, with the holding midfield role, a lack of natural leaders and the absence of a pacey option up front proving a problem.
The club sought to rectify the issues and the temporary acquisitions of players like George Thorne and Hector Bellerin did help in some areas.
January was a crucial month for the club in terms of recruitment and they brought in five new signings. It is still early for those players but Alexander Merkel, Samba Diakite, Mathias Ranegie and Chu-Young Park have yet to make their mark in the Championship - although Merkel has shown promise. Daniel Tozser has proved a big hit so far.
As mentioned above, it is still early for a number of the signings - both from the summer and January - and it would be hard for a lot of players to make an impact in a team which has struggled at times this season.
Yet that point raises another issue as the huge number of potential signings available to the Hornets means they seem quick to dispense with players rather than working out why things are not working and giving them more of a chance.
The club claim decisions on recruitment are made by a small group of people, which include Nani, owner Gino Pozzo, Duxbury and the head coach.
But both Zola and his successor Beppe Sannino have distanced themselves from the acquisition of players, claiming they are simply the head coach and that they are happy for whichever players the club provide.
There were a few problems with this continental system last season, including the sale of Martin Taylor which Zola was upset about, and it was pleasing to see injuries helped Sannino get his way in January by retaining Battocchio, who the club were close to loaning out but he has now started eight of the last ten matches, and come on in the other two.
This week Watford took their number of signings for the season to 18, if you include short-term loans and exclude those who were here last season, and at present only six of those have made a real mark in the first team - Angella, Faraoni, McGugan, Bellerin, Thorne and Tozser.
However, Watford are only eight points away from the play-offs with 42 to play for and were on a five-game unbeaten run before the weekend defeat to Bolton Wanderers. So should Lucas Neill provide some much-needed steel to the Hornets' defence, which then allows Merkel or Diakite to excel in a midfield which creates plenty of chances for Park or Ranegie and the club secure promotion via the play-offs, then much of the above will be forgotten.
But it is a tough ask and the likelihood of that happening could depend on the players brought in by Nani, who rejected our request for an interview.
The importance of Nani's role is emphasised by the fact he is paid £240,000 a year - which is more than chief executive Duxbury. The next few months could tell whether that is money well spent.
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