Watford have announced the signing of seven new players as Gianfranco Zola begins to make his mark following his recent appointment as boss. The Hornets have tonight confirmed former Queens Park Rangers defender Fitz Hall and ex-Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia have signed one-year contracts. Both Almunia, 35, and Hall, 31, have agreed one-year deals at Vicarage Road and will add experience to Gianfranco Zola’s Hornet’s squad, reports the club’s official website. The other five players are on season-long loans from Udinese and Granada – both owned by the Pozzo family, who took over Watford last month.
They are Udinese trio Almen Abdi, Steve Leo Beleck and Matej Vydra and Granada duo Daniel Pudil and Ikechi Anya. Manager Gianfranco Zola also used the strength of new owners the Pozzo family’s extensive European network to complete loan deals for five new recruits. Midfielder Almen Abdi and forwards Matej Vydra and Steve Leo Beleck have arrived from the Italian club and defender Daniel Pudil and striker Ikechi Anya were brought in from the La Liga outfit. Watford technical director Gianluca Nani expressed his delight with the acquisitions but voiced his intention to make further additions. Nani told the club’s official website: “We expect these players to make a very positive impact on Gianfranco Zola’s squad. We are constantly looking to add quality here for Watford, and this is a task which will be ongoing throughout the season.” Almunia was released by Arsenal at the end of last season after eight years in north London, during which he made over 100 league appearances for the club.
He is expected to be Watford’s new number one, after Scott Loach’s departure. Almunia, who made 175 appearances for Arsenal after joining them in 2004, will fill the gap left by Scott Loach’s departure to Ipswich. Journeyman centre-half Hall, who has arrived at Vicarage Road has spent time with Southampton, Newcastle and QPR during his career, has the task of replacing Adrian Mariappa, who left the club to join Premier League new boys Reading. Among the others, only Glasgow-born Anya, 24, has played league football in England before, having had spells with Wycombe and Northampton before heading for Spain, where he spent last season on loan at Cadiz from Granada. Pudil, 26, and Udinese midfielder Abdi, 25, are both full internationals, for the Czech Republic and Switzerland respectively, and have impressed in pre-season friendlies for Watford. Both Anya and Pudil join the north Londoners from La Liga outfit Granada. Vydra, 20, has represented the Czech Republic at youth level, while Udinese club-mate Beleck, 19, was born in Cameroon and played for AEK Athens on loan last season, scoring five goals in 27 appearances.
Watford’s opening game of the season is against Wycombe Wanderers in the Captial One Cup on August 11. However, some of the loan signings may cause misgivings among some fans. Prior to the takeover by the Pozzos, and the installation of Zola as manager, the Watford Supporters’ Trust expressed concern about the possibility of the club being used as a ‘nursery’ to provide experience for youngsters from Udinese.