Opinion: Why Watford’s managerial chop and change is a formula to follow

Gino Pozzo appointing 8 managers in less than 6 seasons since his arrival at Watford may suggest that his tenure has been far from successful – but with Watford looking likely to secure their 4th consecutive season in the Premier League, Pozzo’s regime proves that there is more to running a successful football club than just a performing manager.

Pozzo took over Watford in June 2012 with the club finishing the 2011/12 Championship season in a respectable 11th place. Sean Dyche had overachieved massively with his side that year managing to consolidate on a tight-budget as they were tipped for relegation; this stability paved way for a new era at Watford, and also a future job at Burnley for Dyche. Dyche was instantly sacked by The Hornets for Gianfranco Zola, which kicked-off a trend for the club dismissing managers freely and sharply.

5 and a half years down the line, Watford and Pozzo have somewhat of a reputation for unjust dismissals. The ambitious Italian and his board parted ways with both Quique Flores and Walter Mazzarri after they both managed to secure their Premier League status and on the 21st January of this year, Marco Silva became their latest dismissal. Certain fans and plaudits have criticised Pozzo for these decisions with The Hornets being described as unstable, yet their performances go far to suggest that is not the case. Watford is steadily developing season by season, improving both their squad and infrastructure, cementing themselves as a legitimate Premier League side. This is no better proven by their recent loan signing of Barcelona’s Deulofeu, where they reportedly beat both Milan clubs to his signature.

Criticism from the UK sports media can drive a narrative that Pozzo is just another foreign owner who is desperate for instant success, willing to chop and change coaches against the fan’s will until he gets it, in doing so putting the club’s stability at risk. However,  while you cannot deny that he and the board are willing to make impromptu decisions regarding managers when you look further at the Watford hierarchy, then the notion of instability can truly be put to bed.

Owner Gino Pozzo has a very close and effective working relationship with his chairman, Scott Duxbury and his technical director, Filippo Giraldi. Together they have a long-term vision for Watford and wish to sustain a club which both allows a manager to have the freedom to experiment with his team but also have the foundations behind the scenes so that a coach’s dismissal does not break the club’s internal framework. These three make a lot of key decisions about the team – such as player recruitment from abroad – and any manager coming in will be under no illusion that they are below them in many of the club’s decision-making processes.

To further debunk instant success claims, Watford’s activity in the transfer market in recent years has been shrewd and focussed on youth. Signings such as Richarlison for £11.5m or Nathan Chalobah for £5.5m prove Watford’s quality in scouting and ability to time their transfers in terms of value, both of these players were long looked at and scouted by Watford for some time and they are proving to be great additions. The Pozzo family – who also own Udinese and Grenada – boasts a scouting complex which covers all over the globe, their most notable gem would be a 17-year-old Alexis Sanchez, picked up for £1.5m, found at Chilean club Cobreloa for Udinese. 

A Young Sanchez at Udinese

Whilst the club has an undeniably effective scouting system and a plan of how it wants it to operate, you can see how this can strain relationships with head coaches as they have less power over the club than, perhaps, they would elsewhere. The responsibilities stripped from the head coach means that the board is willing to take more risks and experiment with coaches as they understand that a dismissal of a coach is unlikely to have a seriously detrimental effect on the club.

The short-term managerial approach from Watford’s board is unusual within England but that does not mean it deserves to have its nose turned up at. If you look at the progression made within Watford since 2012 then being overly critical of their managerial decisions would  not be giving Pozzo any justice; hindsight allows us to see that even though he has made sackings which look harsh at the time, the club has never seriously regressed as a result of them, and in most cases, it has improved. This philosophy has dripped down into the Watford fans too, proven by their general happiness at Marco Silva’s dismissal.

The board’s philosophy at Watford gives immediate expectations for any manager who is appointed, there is a clear pragmatic approach from the board: you are expected to have short-term success or you will be replaced. Pozzo is not interested in trying to save something which isn’t working, nor is he interested in stagnation; which is why I’m not surprised Silva left the club.

Silva left Watford in 10th position, with only 5 points coming from his final 11 games. Prior to this, Watford was 5th in the table and had seen some superb performances, such as their 2-1 win over Arsenal in October, this prompted interest from Everton who had recently sacked Ronald Koeman. Ultimately, Watford refused to budge against Marco Silva’s will, this was the beginning of the end for Silva as their poor run started exactly as Everton ended their interest.

Marco Silva’s meticulous, physical and demanding style of play required complete intensity from his players and once they knew he’d rather be in Liverpool, you could see it had an effect on the performances. Pozzo made no secret that Everton was the ‘catalyst’ in the decision to dismiss Silva and I’m sure the Watford board are now regretting not accepting a healthy compensation package for the Portuguese manager earlier on in the season.

The Watford board made the decision to dismiss Silva before scenarios got worse. Despite Silva’s high reputation within the game, they were willing to make a quick-fire decision in order to bring a new face to the club in Javi Gracia to try and instill some new optimism. Although the Silva sacking was ugly – in my opinion, he was not given much time to turn it around -Javi Gracia deserves time at the helm before people are too quick to judge on whether sacking Silva was the right call, as many Pozzo critics have been made to eat their words in the past. Gracia instantly inherits a very capable squad, as well as players who are used to adapting to managerial changes.

Pozzo’s relentlessness with managers may not look pretty from outside, but the structure behind the scenes at Watford has been the platform for which has allowed them to grow and improve to the mid-table club they are now. The pace that the board acts with towards failing managers has proven to prevent further downfalls at the club in the past, and though you may feel for the managers, the success this philosophy has had is unquestionable at Vicarage Road.

By Tommy Joyce