So the World Cup is over and Watford fans’ focus now turns to the 2014/15 Championship season. But those who were totally engrossed by the brilliant football spectacle in Brazil have missed a lot.
Signings have been completed, squads are being shaped and pre-season training and friendlies are well underway.
The Hornets have been busy. Matej Vydra has returned, Daniel Tozser is back on loan and Heurelho Gomes, Craig Cathcart, Gabriel Tamas and Lloyd Dyer have arrived on free transfers.
Watford have a strong squad and one that currently looks, on paper at least, capable of challenging for automatic promotion. But who will they be competing against for a place in the top two?
There’s a little under a month until the season begins and the transfer window is open until the start of September, so there’s time for teams to improve their squads.
But the framework at most clubs, bar Blackpool, has already been put in place for the forthcoming campaign.
What we can anticipate is there’s usually a side that launches a surprise promotion push. Some eventually falter but others, such as Burnley last season, can maintain their form and reach the Premier League.
The three clubs who were relegated from the top tier at the end of the last campaign – Fulham, Cardiff City and Norwich City – all look strong contenders for a place in the top two. But all three come with reservations. The trio don’t have managers who have experienced the rigours of the Championship. And they may suffer from a relegation hangover.
Fulham’s squad has changed dramatically. Experienced players such as Kieran Richardson, Steve Sidwell, Damien Duff, Brede Hangeland and John Arne Riise have departed.
Felix Magath has brought in Basle defender Kay Voser, Newcastle Jets’ Adam Taggart, Bayer Leverkusen’s Kostas Stafylidis, Motherwell’s Shaun Hutchinson and Schalke’s Tim Hoogland – five players who lack any Championship knowhow.
The Cottagers did purchase Ross McCormack from Leeds United, but for an inflated fee that could reach £11m. That looks like an expensive risk given the striker has only scored 20 goals or more in a season just twice in his career.
At Cardiff, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has added goals. Adam Le Fondre and Federico Macheda have joined while Kagisho Dikgacoi will add strength to their midfield.
The majority of last season’s squad has also been retained so it’s little surprise the Bluebirds are the bookies’ favourites to win the title. It’s a similar story at Norwich. The Canaries struggled badly for goals last season and that was arguably the reason they were relegated.
Neil Adams, who has yet to win a game since being promoted from Under-18’s coach, has added strikers Kyle Lafferty and Lewis Grabban, players who’ve scored goals in the Championship.
Their only major departure this summer has been Robert Snodgrass with the Scottish international signing for Hull City. So a promotion push is a possibility but it’s not always easy to bounce straight back up.
Last season’s beaten play-off finalists Derby County have kept hold of their key players and Steve McLaren proved throughout the previous campaign that he could make intelligent loan signings from Premier League sides.
The Rams were the highest scorers in the division last season but, without another striker yet signed, Chris Martin will again be relied upon to lead the attack.
Wigan Athletic boss Uwe Rosler has been shrewd in the transfer market and the Latics could challenge for a place in the top two.
They finished in the play-off places last season but were knocked out in the semi-final after going down 2-1 on aggregate to Queens Park Rangers.
Striker Oriol Riera, who impressed in La Liga last season for Osasuna, has been added whilst former Hornets Don Cowie and Andrew Taylor bring experience of winning the division to the Wigan side.
Creative players like Callum McManaman, Shaun Maloney and James McClean remain at the club and will create chances, although Jordi Gomez has departed for Sunderland.
As for that surprise package, well that’s difficult to choose.
Reading are yet to make a signing, Middlesbrough have lost three first-choice strikers, Nottingham Forest are an unknown quantity as Stuart Pearce embarks on his first club managerial role in seven years and Blackburn Rovers always seem close to a major drama behind the scenes.
Dougie Freedman at Bolton Wanderers, Eddie Howe at Bournemouth and Mick McCarthy at Ipswich Town are all managers who are capable of guiding a side towards the play-off positions, while Sami Hyypia is an intriguing appointment at Brighton and Hove Albion after mixed success in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen.
Leeds United are undoubtedly a sleeping giant but the surprise appointment of ex-Watford coach David Hockaday, who failed in the Conference at Forest Green Rovers, doesn’t inspire confidence that a promotion bid is likely.
The newly-promoted sides, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Brentford and Rotherham United, will be quietly confident of survival and, with Kenny Jackett in charge, Wolves have a strong chance of doing that.
Clubs who struggled last season will hope to improve. Birmingham City have recruited players from across the UK while Charlton Athletic have a new manager in Bob Peeters and he’s brought in two players from his native Belgium.
Huddersfield Town are yet to seriously strengthen but haven’t lost key players while survival is likely to be Ian Holloway’s target this season at Millwall.
Sheffield Wednesday have signed six players but Keiren Westwood is the only one of those who has more than a season’s experience in the second tier.
But with only eight first-team players currently on their books, one of the easier things to predict is that Blackpool will almost certainly struggle.
The Championship is one of the most unpredictable leagues in the world. It’s exciting, entertaining and engaging. Yet it’s a league that everyone wants to get out of.
This was first published in last Friday's Watford Observer.