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Roker Ramble: Next Year's Model

Alec Baldwin rocks the Prem - it's all about the delivery.

Marco Luzzani/Getty Images

It's always interesting to see the trends at the start of the season - who starts off well and, especially, who starts off badly. Hull's opening two victories took everyone by surprise, so too West Ham's non existent defence and Stoke's stuttering start, and we know they'll pick up and finish just about where they did last year, but for now, it's good to see them struggle.

But it's Watford that have most caught the eye, with two great results in the last fortnight, coming from behind to beat West Ham at the new London Stadium and then beating Manchester United at home last week with a style that perhaps questions their rather plain image, fast paced, with both flair and determination. And what's really baffling is that they're getting these results by doing everything wrong.

First of all, they're not a real football town, they're the Hull City of southern England. Apart from being the headquarters of Wetherspoon's, there's nothing there to speak of that I know. They've an average attendance of 20,658, 17th in the Premier League, they're known as ‘The Hornets' despite having what appears to be a moose on their badge and run out to the tune of Z Cars, a show based in Liverpool that is the long standing theme to Everton.

To their credit they did have success in the early and mid eighties with John Barnes and Graham Taylor, but even Elton John's flamboyance with enough glitter to light Oxford Street couldn't sustain the momentum, and they spent the intervening years in and out of the football wilderness.

Come 2015 and Watford are promoted back to the Premier League and celebrate by sacking their manager and bringing in fifteen new players. How we smirked, rubbed our hands with anticipation, and when they brought in the unknown (to the football-ignorant such as I) Quique Sanchez Flores with a nice taste in jumpers and a pleasant smile, we crossed one off our list for the end-of season drop.

At the turn of the New Year they were seventh, finishing the season a respectable 13th - ahead of us by the way - and celebrated by sacking Sanchez Flores. Like I said, they get it all wrong. They then took on the current incumbent, the Italian, Walter Mazzarri, who bears a passing resemblance to Hollywood's Alec Baldwin, and is someone else I'd never heard of, although apparently he did manage Inter and José doesn't like him so he must be OK.

Walter doesn't speak English and in five games this season, has used 22 players of 18 different nationalities. How do they talk to each other? How do they communicate? We put a new guy with a funny accent into the back four and it's an excuse to leak goals until they ‘bond and get to know each other'. I wouldn't be surprised if the Watford players just called each other by their shirt numbers, probably in a language that only one of them understands.

The reason why the team is successful - and we know they're probably not going to finish in the top ten, but they're also probably not going to be in a relegation fight either, is because the manager has a plan that works and he can get all the players to understand it - somehow. He's not waiting to see who plays well with who, or what style suits the players he has, there is a plan and the players fit into it. They know what's expected of them, where the other players will be on the pitch at any given time - not necessarily who they are of course, but it works.

Leicester also play to a recognisable plan - and after last season even I know what it is. They of course haven't gone down the cast of thousands route, quite the opposite, but doesn't that confirm that if the plan or model is good, the players will benefit from playing within a structured framework with the minimum of managerial interference?

Any team that can sustain a good level of performance without a managerial dynasty and with a revolving door of players has to have consistency and decisiveness at the top and this is where Watford get it right. Their owner is Gino Pozzo, his family have kept Udinese in the Italian top flight for twenty years and guided Grenada from the Spanish third division to the first where they've been for the last six years. Their mantra is ‘different problems, different solutions' - they don't wait for things to go wrong before taking positive action. They have planned executions, not panicked decisions. They needed a manager to get them promoted, then a different one to establish them in the Premier League, then another to kick on from there.

It's a model that other Premier League clubs would do well to emulate. How many clubs have a long term plan and actively work to it? Anyone with realistic top six aspirations wants to get in the Champions League, anyone heading for the bottom half wants to avoid relegation and it seems like that's the extent of the business plan of most clubs. And the reason for that could well be that the Chairmen and Directors of some clubs are either trying to run them as a football club or as a business, whereas the successful ones are run by people who understand both. It will be interesting to see how the new generation of owners coming into the Premier League go about their business.

So, Ellis, the secret is out, what we need is a manager that looks like Brad Pitt, only speaks Serbo-Croat or Uzbek, has fourteen new players from sixteen different countries and a cunning plan. Mind you, I think we've tried that.

Whilst I get a kick from watching the Stoke's and West Ham's of this world struggle, there is genuine pleasure from watching the game played well, and you're not going to do better than watch Man City at the moment. When a team is this good you can put aside tribal loyalties and just appreciate what a beautiful game it is. Manchester United achieved it under Ferguson, Arsenal in their unbeaten season, and now City under Guardiola - at least for now. In the Prem for the past few years we've had European managers coaching European players - but it remains to be seen if we can play European football as well as the Europeans. The Champions League is upon us, all will be revealed.

On the flip side, with England, we've tried and failed at the foreign and glamorous route to managerial success, and have now pinned our hopes on Big Sam, who in turn has pinned his hopes on Sammy Lee as his principal assistant. I caught sight of Sam sitting with Kenny Jackett at a match this weekend and started to feel quite despondent for some reason.

Former Wales captain Kevin Ratcliffe has warned Swansea City that ‘they're in a relegation fight already' after losing 1-0 to Southampton on Saturday. ‘Relegation fight'? They have four points - the Christmas decorations are going up by the time we normally get four points. They don't know they're born.

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