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You're kidding, right?
By Adrian Spender
The immediate questions were obvious: Why Watford, when Vialli had been linked with a return to his former club Juventus? Would he bring in his own staff? Would the academy youngsters' chances be stifled by the importing of foreign players? Vialli's managerial record with Chelsea was undoubtedly good - he is the most successful manager in Chelsea history. However, he achieved all of this with the not-inconsiderable backing of Ken Bates' wallet. What's more, rumours abounded that his unceremonial exit from Stamford Bridge was more down to his inability to control a mounting dressing room mutiny, than Chelsea failing to win in their first five Premiership outings in 2000/01.

Even those who initially welcomed the appointment were concerned about the long term. Even if Vialli truly wanted to prove his coaching ability without the artificial boost of mountains of cash, surely he would depart for pastures greener as soon as the right offer came along? Watford was a convenient place for him to tread water, close to London, his home and adopted city.

The Watford board obviously thought that it needed a man with the pedigree and character of Vialli to overcome the disability of Taylor's legacy, but they didn't fully comprehend, or chose to ignore, the potential long term consequences. Although Vialli brought the possibility of success in the same way Jean Tigana had done for Fulham the previous season, so such success would not come without the investment that Vialli would demand.

It was clear to any fan that Watford's squad needed strengthening should they wish to attempt realistically to gain promotion in 2001/02. Most notably, their failing in the previous season had not been goal scoring, but rather conceding. Most onlookers acknowledged that a defender or two would be required. Graham Taylor had an ability to make exceptionally good transfer purchases, but Vialli failed to show such adeptness. His initial signings, although providing much needed defensive cover, also came at a price. They broke the club's strict wage structure. As Alex Ferguson will tell you, once you do that, there is no going back.

More worrying was the way that Vialli swept away the existing coaching structure at the club. First team coach Jackett and reserve manager Blissett were first out of the door. They were quickly followed by Tom Walley and physio Paul Rastrick. All were replaced by Vialli's own men. Ray Wilkins and Ray Lewington took over coaching responsibility, whilst Antoni Pintus acted as fitness coach. Under Blissett, the reserve side provided an opportunity for the club's up and coming youngsters to flower against stronger and older opposition. It also provided much needed match practice for those members of Watford's large first team squad either recovering from injury or out of first team favour. However, Vialli, forced by the board to retain the club's academy under-nineteen and under-seventeen sides, implemented a thinning of the first team squad with many players shown the exit. The most notable being the previous season's top scorer Tommy Mooney, who was refused a new contract. With a thinner squad, and Vialli's favoured first team rotation system in place, the reserve team was disbanded. Youngsters graduating from the academy were either good enough to make the first team immediately, or were not offered contracts and snapped up by other sides more than grateful to take advantage of the legacy of Watford's investment in youth.

Despite the back room restructuring, Vialli's team made an immediate impact on Division One, and by Christmas were firmly placed at the top of the table. The close season signings plugged the defensive gaps, and the new striker's partnership with Tommy Smith - a player who was surely on his way out of Vicarage Road until Vialli arrived - provided the goals.

There was one notable absence in the record crowds that flocked to Vicarage Road: that of Graham Taylor. It seemed inconceivable just seven months earlier when he strode around the pitch after the Tranmere game that it would be his last appearance at a home match. Taylor's failure to attend visibly demonstrated what sources close to the former manager confirmed was his disgust at the way his back room team's hard work was being torn apart.

As we know, Vialli's Watford easily gained the First Division title, and made a promising start to this season's Premiership campaign, but it was not to last and the first signs of problems started to manifest themselves. Although easily gaining promotion, Vialli knew his team needed significant close season strengthening to maintain a respectable challenge in the Premiership. However, the board were unable or unwilling to offer the money Vialli wanted. This was in part due to the fact that work on development of the ground's east side, started inconveniently at the beginning of the Premiership season, meant lower gate receipts and escalating costs. The huge television windfall also failed to materialise in the form of transfer funds. Some insiders say that the board had lost confidence in their decision to appoint Vialli after what they considered to be the ransacking of the club's youth development setup and deliberately witheld funds.

The team started to falter, and Vialli did not fail to show his discontent with the board's continued refusal to provide significant transfer funds. Press speculation mounted that Vialli was looking for a way out, and it soon arrived. Not many Watford fans were surprised when Juventus approached Vialli after sacking manager Ancelotti. The wishes of Juve fans became true when Vialli announced his departure to Italy in January.

Vialli's parting statement left little doubt that he squarely placed blame on the Watford board's inability to back up their "very serious, very ambitious" plans with hard cash. But older Watford fans, and especially those who remember Dave Bassett, will say that at the end of the day, the whole experience has proved that there's only one Graham Taylor.