Aidy's Anniversary - part 2
Indeed, there was a sea change of personnel at Vicarage Road in the summer with ten players and seven staff leaving the club.
The sale of leading goalscorer and Player of the Season Heidar Helguson raised a war-chest of £1.5 million but the release of long-serving defender Neil Cox and the sale of influential midfielder Brynnar Gunnarsson to Championship rivals Reading raised eyebrows among many Watford supporters. However, it was the sacking of first tean coach Nigel Gibbs (who was Assistant to Lewington) that angered many fans. Gibbs had made over 400 appearances for his hometown club and was tipped to become a future manager. But Boothroyd obviously felt that the former Watford defender did not meet all three categories of his criterion, Boothroyd made an unpopular decision but one that he felt was just.
A small squad made the bookmakers price-up Watford as favourites for relegation to third tier of English Football. However, the astute summer signings in the shape of goalkeeper Ben Foster, defenders Malky Mackay and Clarke Carlisle, midfielder Matthew Spring (and later Chris Eagles) and forwards Marlon King and Darius Henderson ensured that another relegation dogfight was not going to be on the agenda in Boothroyd’s first full season in charge of the Championship club.
Promising goalkeeper Ben Foster, who was bought by Sir Alex Ferguson from Stoke City for £1million, was signed on a season-long loan-deal from Manchester United. Experienced defenders Clarke Carlisle, who was signed for £100,000 from Boothroyd’s former club Leeds, and Malky Mackay, who was signed on a free transfer, tightened up the defence. Former Luton midfielder Matthew Spring, who was signed from Leeds for £150,000, gave Watford an attacking option in the engine room. Whilst forwards Marlon King, who was signed on loan (then bought for £500,000 in January) formed a lethal strike partnership with Darius Henderson, who was signed for £450,000 from Gillingham. King is currently the Championship’s leading goalscorer with 18 goals while Henderson has 12 to his name this term.
The new signings along with the transformation of fringe players to first team regulars such as 20-yaer-old Ashley Young – who has 12 goals to his name this term – has rejuvenated Watford from relegation contender to genuine promotion contenders. In December with Watford sitting fourth in the Championship and Boothroyd being linked to managerial vacancies elsewhere, the board felt that they had to act and awarded Boothroyd a five-year extension to his one-year rolling contract that will keep him at Vicarage Road until 2010.
Upon Boothroyd signing the extension to his contract, the club issued a statement that read: “Adrian has proved himself to be some one who combines exceptional man management skills with the very best in pure football coaching qualities. “In a short space of time he has taken this club by the scruff of the neck and given us new purpose, vigour and far greater self belief. “As a result, Adrian has become highly respected by everyone with Watford and the wider footballing public – particularly our fans.”
Boothroyd said: “In a very short space of time, Watford has come to mean an awful lot to me and I am committed to delivering this sooner rather than later.” With Watford currently lying third in the Championship Boothroyd’s vision could happen sooner rather then later. The Hornets are currently thirteen points in front of seventh-placed Cardiff City and it would surely take a Devon Loch moment to see Watford dislodged of a play-off place. But Boothroyd is looking up rather than down and is focusing his efforts on catching second-placed Sheffield United, who are six points in front of Watford with six games remaining. “I think if we start thinking about the play-offs then that is where we will end up,” commented Boothroyd.
As Watford stand on the brink of promotion to the top-flight for only the third time in their history, it is no surprise that people are starting to compare Boothroyd to the only other manager that took the Hornets to the Promised Land in their 125-year history: Graham Taylor. Intriguingly, a club statement on the day Boothroyd was appointed read: “Watford Football Club once before appointed a young manager who went on to achieve at the highest level of the game. “Today we believe that that this could be the start of a similar chapter in the history of the club.”
Indeed, there are many similarities between Boothroyd and Taylor. Not only are they both a pair of no-nonsense yorkshiremen but they both retired from playing in their early twenties through injury and the appointment of Keith Burkenshaw as Boothroyd’s assistant mirrors Taylor’s appointment of Bertie Mee, who managed Arsenal to the double in 1971, as his assistant.
On celebrating a year in charge of Watford, with promotion to the Promised Land of the Premiership a possibility, Adrian Boothroyd is certainly living up to the potential that Chairman Graham Simpson and Watford Board saw in him.
And it’s definitely no longer a case of Adrian Who.