Watford’s canny scouting could produce first team regulars for years to come
Watford have scoured South America for raw talent in recent years, signing young players from Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia and Brazil in the process.
The majority of them have been low-cost, low-profile additions who have yet to trouble Watford’s first-team coaches.
Whether they stand a chance of making it as Premier League regulars remains to be seen.
Nevertheless, the Watford scouting network has identified some clearly talented players, the most famous being former Fluminense prodigy Richarlison.
However, it was Adalberto Peñaranda, not Richarlison, who seems to have been the trailblazing mover, switching from Deportivo La Guaira in Venezuela to Udinese before joining Watford for just shy of £10million in 2016.
Of course, Udinese are owned by Giampaolo Pozzo, father of Watford owner Gino, and the clubs share a close relationship, often loaning players to each other.
Peñaranda joined Granada on loan before returning to Udinese the following season, and his defining career moment so far came when he starred for Venezuela as they were beaten by England in the 2017 under-20s World Cup final.
His progress has since stalled somewhat, and being sent on a string of loans to gain a work permit has hardly helped his development.
However, Peñaranda is only one of a handful of South American imports at Vicarage Road. One who has enjoyed more success as a loanee is Pervis Estupiñan.
The Ecuadorian is a left-back with excellent crossing ability, and he has been one of Osasuna’s best players in La Liga this season. He is currently on a two-year loan with the Spanish club.
The 22-year-old is another who initially joined Udinese as a teenager before making the move to Watford a year later.
He is one who has shown he could make the transition to the Premier League if Watford exercise their right to end his loan deal prematurely.
As far as attacking left-backs go, they are very much in fashion at the moment – and Watford have one of Europe’s most promising contracted to the club.
Another beneficiary of Watford’s South American scouting and subsequent use of the loan system is Colombian striker Luis Suárez.
Currently at Real Zaragoza in the Spanish second tier, he has scored 17 goals in 29 appearances.
Suárez initially joined Granada, another club formerly owned by Pozzo, before signing for Watford in 2017. And after a string of loans in Spain over the past couple of years, he has finally hit form this season with Zaragoza and will be on the radar of plenty of La Liga clubs in the summer.
Suárez was not the only Colombian signed by Watford in 2017.
Jorge Segura, a centre-back who has spent time on loan at Real Valladolid, Independiente Medellín and Club Atlas in Mexico, also arrived from South America.
The second, Juan Camilo ‘Cucho’ Hernández, has been more of a success in Europe.
The young striker helped fire Huesca to La Liga before spending two seasons in the top flight on loan with the promoted side, and then this season Real Mallorca.
Often described as a cannonball-like forward, Cucho is rated highly and scored a brace on making his Colombia debut.
The 18-year-old João Pedro is perhaps the most high-profile of Watford’s recent South American additions considering he’s actually made his first-team debut, unlike many of the others.
The club agreed to sign the teenager directly from Fluminense before he had even made a first-team appearance for the Brazilian side.
After obtaining a work permit last year, Pedro officially joined Watford and made his debut in the FA Cup against Tranmere Rovers in January, following the same path taken by Richarlison.
Watford’s relationship with Udinese and past affiliation with Granada could benefit them greatly in years to come if their South American imports continue to develop their raw talent in European leagues.
Without question, the club have tried to exploit a largely untapped market, but whether that pays dividends on the pitch or in the club’s accounts remains to be seen.
Given the loan successes of many players currently on their books, Watford could already offload most of their South American players for a fee.
Alternatively, as with Richarlison’s move and the likely trajectory of Estupiñan, they may instead opt to incorporate them into a multi-national Premier League squad at Vicarage Road.