It didn't have to be this way. We could have spent the last part of the season on tenterhooks as Watford battled manfully with their customary spirit in order to try and win a place in the play-off bunfight. We could even have been slogging it out with the Black Country rivals for the second automatic berth or even giving Kevin Keegan's latest big-spending runaway success a run for their money at the top of the table. We didn't and that's disappointing. What's worse, though, is that we never looked like doing any of these things.
Instead we have spent a season treading water and we haven't even done that very well at times. While all managers make mistakes, it's the amount of times Luca's made the same mistakes that has been particularly galling. There have been at least three occasions when, after a semi-decent run of form, one defeat has resulted in a total change of tactics. Then there was the Worthington Cup Quarter-Final debacle at Hillsborough. Before that game, things were going along nicely and making the amount of changes to the team, plus the total change in formation, can only be described as foolish at best. The result that night is a blow from which the team and support has yet to fully recover.
His use of substitutions during the campaign has also shown up this almost embarrassing lack of tactical nous. For all his words about being flexible, he has rarely altered tactics during a game, opting instead for a series of like for like changes. His team selections have been baffling at times. It almost seems as if the names of players are picked out of a hat the day before the game. He has played too many people out of position, none more so than Heidar Helguson. He's not the greatest striker we've ever had by any means, but when he has played up front, generally he's delivered. So why has he spent most of the season in midfield and, in some extreme cases, wingback?
The second half of the season has been awful. Apart from the few decent displays in March, we have been poor and it's only due to certain individuals that we haven't been dragged in to a relegation scrap. Sure, we've seen some younger players introduced and the arrival of McNamee as a first team option can only be a good thing, but a whole team's worth of players older than him, such as Ifil, Lee, Swonnell and others, are still waiting for a first team chance. Why haven't Panayi and Langston been given a go since Vega and Issa became persona non-grata?
So many questions, not enough answers. In the interests of balance, I should point out that there have been highlights along the way and some very good performances. Any season that contains a double over Crystal Palace cannot be a total disaster. Unfortunately, they've been the exception rather than the rule. It would be unfair to lay the blame solely at the feet of Gianluca Vialli, there are several people who are partly culpable. However, the first season under the Italian has found him wanting and if there was much work to be done to turn us into promotion candidates at the start of the season, it has surely doubled now.
So what happens next? As disappointed as I am with the season and Vialli's reign to date, sacking the manager is not an option. We can't become a club that sacks managers and in any case, the pay-off for Vialli and his backroom staff would probably bankrupt us. Almost by default, Luca will get another bite of the apple next season, unless he decides he doesn't need the shit he's getting and walks. Maybe the best thing for Watford is an Italian club coming in and poaching Vialli, allowing him to no doubt tell all and sundry that he couldn't turn down the chance to manage in Italy and that his three-year plan hadn't failed.
Whether he stays or goes, with the ITV Digital farce still in full swing, there doesn't appear to be much room for manoeuvre with regards to players. We can hope that Issa has a spectacular World Cup campaign for South Africa and someone comes in with a cash bid, I guess. As I'm more likely to do that than Pierre, we're stuck with him and his mates, Vega and Blondeau. That's three players who don't want to know and who don't care a fig for Watford that are earning big money and not performing. We could pay them off, but as with Vialli, the amount of money it would take to get shot of these players would leave us skint. The club has got itself into a bit of a mess on this one.
Some might reason that at least the rest of the squad are likely to make some sort of effort, come the new season. I sincerely hope that they will as the form of the team and the poor performances in the last few weeks of the season can only have caused a lot of genuine concern. With the highest earners set to stay in the reserves counting their cash, the club needs to keep generating revenue. These poor displays mean that the support is starting to dwindle and season ticket renewals are presumably doing the same. If the crowds don't keep coming, we're unlikely to be able to bring in new players in the summer or at the start of next season. Which leaves us with the current underachieving squad. The prospect of us starting next season as poorly as we have finished this is all too real and all too alarming. Whichever way you look at it, the picture is starting to look a little bit grim and things are perhaps going to have to get worse before they get better.
Still, let's end on a positive note. At 3.45 on Sunday, we can all forget about football for a couple of months and have a rest. It is much needed.