Why are the Pozzos so confident Javi Gracia is their man at Vicarage Road?
Background image by Jbb503, CC BY-SA 4.0
English football is notoriously impatient with under-achieving managers. Ask Mark Hughes. In recent times, however, no team manifests this theme more than Watford.
The Hertfordshire-based club went through seven managers in the past four years. The Pozzo family, who own the club, routinely hired and fired bosses to the point where a new manager's unveiling practically became a pagan ritual celebrating the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. That changed in 2018. Javi Gracia sat in the hot seat from January forward but unlike those before him, survived the change of season.
The Hornets’ solid if not spectacular second half arrived with the Spaniard's task to stabilise rather than progress the side. He kept them afloat but they barely made land, collecting nine points from a possible 27 during the campaign's final two months.
Even so, Gracia made an impression. Watford’s accomplished start to the new session is then manager repaying the owners' trust. In turn, the Watford hierarchy repaid Garcia, extending his contract until 2023 with a further three-year option to boot. It's a conspicuous change from owners who previously demonstrated little if any patience
How does Gracia differ?
Primarily, the Pamplona native's motives are in stark contrast to his predecessor. Marco Silva viewed Watford as a stepping stone. Once he expressed his desire to manage Everton, his ideas were always going to be a tough sell to the Watford squad. Gracia treats his presence at Vicarage Road as an honour. He is committed to the organisation and the philosophy that no one is bigger than the club.
Granted time to work with his squad, the 48-year-old implemented his vision. Typical of his methods at Malaga and Rubin Kazan, Watford are disciplined and industrious, a tough match for anyone.
Gracia installed a 4-4-2 system, enabling Watford’s most talented players to flourish in their best-suited roles. Sturdy midfielders Etienne Capoue and Abdoulaye Doucoure thrive in the centre of the park. Their partnership is integral to Watford’s nigh impenetrable double block.
While Capoue and Doucoure hold the middle, the fullbacks, Jose Holebas and Daryl Janmaat, maraud at will. The more they push forward, drawing defenders to the flanks, the more space opens for Watford’s creative pivot of Will Hughes and Roberto Pereyra. Either can work inside and out.
Pereyra's been a Watford stand-out this season. The highly talented Argentine featured in the 2015 Champions League final for Juventus. In his new team, he's scored four goals from midfield. Among the Hornet’s most prized possessions, it's logical for Gracia to prioritise a system in which he flourishes.
That said, Gracia’s side isn't one-dimensional. The 4-4-2 can be altered to the occasion, such as in their 2-0 victory over Wolves. Isaac Success was deployed as the only recognised striker although Gerard Deulofeu also played a forward role in a 4-2-2-2. In another 2-0 victory over Reading in the League Cup, Success played the nine in a 4-4-1-1 with Domingos Quina slotting in behind the Nigerian. Both came away with goals against the Royals. Such tactical tweaks maintain a fresh feel in the side.
Gracia has given Watford structure and identity. They aren't perfect as recent defeats to Bournemouth, Newcastle and Liverpool reveal. However, the Hornets defy expectations after being tipped for relegation when the season began. They appear to have finally found stability with Javi Gracia.