Zola: Watford's identity can't be sacrificed at the expense of defensive stability (From Watford Observer)
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Gianfranco Zola: Watford's identity can't be sacrificed at the expense of defensive stability
Gianfranco Zola believes the class of 2013/14 can become as good as last season’s side which reached the play-off final but stressed the importance of retaining the club’s identity as an attractive side to watch.
The Hornets exceeded expectations during the previous campaign when they twice missed out on promotion to the Premier League by the narrowest of margins.
The performances last time around meant the Golden Boys were one of the favourites to reach the top flight this season but the club are currently 12th in the Championship, 14 points off the top two and six points away from the play-off places.
However, speaking at Monday night’s fans’ forum, Zola said: “We have some important players missing from last season but I believe we have some good players here who are probably not expressing their potential completely.
“I think we can be as good as last year. It may be in another way. We have evolved a bit and we are finding the balance. Whether we become as good as last year will depend on how we react to moments like this.
“Don’t believe that last year everything was right and this year is bad.
“Around this time last year we were going through a difficult situation. Before the Huddersfield game (on September 29 when Watford were 20th after seven league games) I remember sitting on the bench and it was very hot. But there was a togetherness and to be honest it is something I am seeing now. It was pushing the team in the right direction and I think we are going in the right direction now. I have seen a reaction. I am confident we are going the right way.”
One of Watford’s main problems is the number of goals they concede, having shipped 27 in 19 league games – more than all of the teams in the top 15 of the Championship.
Zola recognises their leaky defence needs fixing but states it won’t be at the expense of the passing style which arguably made them the Championship’s entertainers during the 2012/13 campaign.
He said: “It is about what we want to be. When we came here, we declared to everyone that we wanted to be an attacking team and we wanted to be a team that tries to play it’s own football and try to be that type of team.
“I know I can train and prepare the team a different way but then we would lose our identity.
“That doesn’t mean that we have to concede so many goals and I know that we need to do better and as far as I am concerned, we are working every day – especially recently – to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“But again, we have to understand that if you want to play a certain type of football then sometimes you have to concede at the other end. If we want to score 85 goals then you can’t pretend you will only concede ten. I am working the best I can and with all my knowledge to make sure we don’t concede as many but I have to respect the balance.
“I can’t guarantee that if we try to not let the opposition score then we will be the same team. It is about finding the balance.
“I was under the impression that while we of course want the results and to get to the Premier League, we also wanted to do it in a certain style and by having a certain identity. I believe that you [the fans] are very proud of supporting a team like Watford and you want to be identified as a team that everyone speaks well about. I believe last year that was the case.
“We have to believe in that, keep on our way and I’m sure we will improve. I know what is going on and I know what we need to do but we have to stick together and keep our identity.”
Watford have just five points less at this stage of the season compared to last, when they were eighth in the table after 19 games.
There has certainly been an increase in expectation among Hornets supporters this season – as you would expect – and Zola says the team must handle that additional pressure.
He explained: “When things go so well, the expectation rises – not only from supporters but the media and ourselves. That is something that we have to cope with.
“This season is not finished, it is still on and there is still a lot to play for and the situation will depend on how well we can handle these situations.
“Everyone has to focus on what we have to do and where we need to go.”
He continued: “The situation has been addressed and in the last two games (two away draws at Burnley and Leeds United) there has been total desire from the players to change things around because they care about what they do and they care about the squad. They have shown on the pitch what they are trying to do.
“We also changed the system and tried to make it different. We want to maintain the identity but try to play a different way which the opposition does not expect.
“The teams do their home work when they come to here [Vicarage Road] and it is not easy for Watford and it wouldn’t be easy for anybody. We are aware of that and we are giving all we can give so stay with us because this is not my club, it is our club so I would appreciate it if you [the fans] really stick with us and give us your full support.”
n The reports of corruption in football make Zola feel “sick” and Watford’s head coach believes everyone has a responsibility to “kill off those things”.
Ex-Premier League striker DJ Campbell was one of six people questioned by police in connection with allegations of fixing aspects of football matches. All have since been bailed.
On corruption in football, Zola said: “It makes me sick. If you love this game then you don’t want to see these things but it happens everywhere – it happened in Italy, in this country and other countries.
“It is our responsibility to protect the game and make it the way we want. We have a responsibility to kill off those things to make it better.
“In sport it is the worst thing that can happen and I can only be hard on that. I believe the majority of the players and professionals feel the same. Unfortunately you do get bad people and we need to make sure we protect it [football] because that is the way we love it.”
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