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Gianfranco Zola feels his Watford side are in better shape than at this point last season after early summer signings
Gianfranco Zola believes it was vital Watford concluded the majority of their transfer business early this year after an unsettling start to last season.
The Hornets had not confirmed any summer arrivals at this stage last year due to the club’s transfer embargo, although seven players had been training with the Golden Boys for most of pre-season.
The number of summer arrivals increased to ten on August 24, 2012, but by that time Watford had played their first three games of the season.
One of the biggest upheavals to Watford’s playing squad in recent memory was increased further when six more players signed on transfer deadline day – less than 24 hours before the 5-1 débâcle at Derby County, which was Zola’s sixth game in charge of the club.
The Golden Boys won just two of their first seven league games – and three of their initial nine in all competitions – as the Italian attempted to mould his squad which, by his own admission, was “not a normal size” and it was an unsettling time.
However, this year the club have completed the signings of 15 players – if you include Manuel Almunia who was out of contract – and that is expected to increase further in the coming weeks.
Zola said: “It is vital to get the signings in early because last year we lost so much time; working with one group of players and then another group came in so it was quite unstable for a while.
“This year we are certainly in better shape and the players have been working well so I am expecting a better start.”
The Hornets head coach continued: “It happened very late last year and fortunately the season ended up going well but that is something that may not happen again.
“It is a big bonus [to have so many signed already] and it has only gone so well because the players wanted to make it happen.
“If we can get things done early it can make a big difference.”
The Watford Observer reported three weeks ago that the Hornets were set to sign a host of players on permanent deals and then a week later added that most of the contracts had been signed and the club were just waiting for confirmation from the relevant football authorities.
Last Friday the club announced four players – Almen Abdi, Cristian Battocchio, Gabriele Angella and Diego Fabbrini – had been registered as Watford players and they were awaiting final approval for Marco Cassetti, Daniel Pudil, Javier Acuna and Marco Davide Faraoni.
The quartet’s moves were ratified on Monday morning at the same time as the club confirmed Ikechi Anya and former Manchester United defender Reece Brown had also signed on three and two-year deals respectively.
Then on Wednesday it was confirmed Joel Ekstrand had joined; signing a contract which will expire in 2016 and Iriney has penned a two-year deal.
Zola said: “It is very good [to get the signings confirmed]. It will give us a little bit of stability and will settle a lot of nerves with the supporters and other people.
“I am pleased because they are players who can make a difference at this club and we welcome them and wish them every success.”
Usually sides announce signings as soon as the contract is signed but due to Watford’s ‘transfer embargo’ and several players joining on free transfers from Udinese, the club were keen to await formal confirmation from FIFA, UEFA, FA and Football League.
When asked if he was slightly concerned by the delay, Zola replied: “No. It was just a matter of time and it was due to the Football League and other bodies needing to confirm the signings. I wasn’t worried.”
Saturday was Watford’s first pre-season match in England after a two-week training camp in northern Italy.
Most of the club’s new signings were on the trip and Zola believes it has helped those coming into the club integrate with the rest of the players.
He said: “Obviously last year’s group was a great group and you can see there is an understanding and a spirit between the players.
“That has also made it easy for the others to join in. It’s a good group and a healthy group and you can see everything is coming together very well.”
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