Is Javi Gracia holding Watford back?
In January, Watford Football Club took the decision to fire highly-rated manager Marco Silva following a barren spell. Their replacement? Javi Gracia; an out-of-work 48-year-old who'd spent the previous season in Russia with Rubin Kazan.
After starting his career as a gaffer with the Villareal youth side, Gracia has been manager at no fewer than ten clubs in fifteen years; that should immediately raise concern. The fact that his longest tenure is just two-and-a-half-years long, with second division side Cadiz, which was over a decade ago now, should certainly get the alarm bells ringing.
In his fifteen games as Watford manager, the Spaniard has failed to inspire. Gracia's 26.7% win ratio is the worst in his managerial career to date. Aren't you supposed to hit the ground running when taking charge at a new club? That honeymoon period when appointing a new boss is when you usually see an up-turn in form. Instead, Watford continued on a downward trajectory. Fortunately, their early-season success was enough to maintain their Premier League status.
What must be annoying for Hornets fans is the fact that they've an immense talent-pool at Gracia's disposal. Gerard Deulofeu spent the second-half of the season on loan at Vicarage Road; that short-term deal has since been made permanent. He scored one goal in his seven appearances for the club, but you'd certainly expect to see the former FC Barcelona winger to be given more freedom to bomb forward and affect the game in the final third. At times, he looked toothless and unthreatening. The manager needs to take the shackles off.
Then you have Brazilian winger Richarlison. The 21-year-old didn't contribute towards a single goal following Gracia's appointment. Beforehand, the tricky winger scored five goals, while tacking on eight assists for his teammates. Sure, the player has to take some blame for the lack of input, but it's down to the manager to inspire; that's obviously not happening.
Throw veterans like Troy Deeney and Daryl Janmaat into the mix, coupled with stellar talents including Abdoulaye Doucoure and Roberto Pereyra, Watford should simply be doing far better than they are. Building a team rather than a collection of stars is inevitably what it always boils down to, but Gracia has a hard-working, dedicated bunch of players at his disposal.
Gracia's style of play isn't all that inspiring, either. In fact, it has been labelled 'effective, rather than thrilling'. That's all well and good when the results are going your way. However, when you're not winning, the fans will turn on you pretty quickly. Just ask Jose Mourinho about that, he's been in that situation a few times...
For now, I'm happy to give Gracia the benefit of the doubt. He hasn't had a full transfer window to make this squad his own. In fact, it was he who brought the immensely gifted Deulofeu to Watford. He's also brought in another Spaniard; the highly-rated full-back Marc Navarro. Let's see how he starts off in 2018/19, but if the extremely poor form (and results) continue to pour in, don't be surprised to see him out of a job before Christmas...