Why Watford must plan now for life in the Championship
Background photo: Geetarchurchy, CC-BY-2.0
Monumental collapse. That’s the best way to describe Watford’s start to the 2019/20 campaign. Trepidation saturates Vicarage Road, a solid base coat for the panic that follows. Over the international break, Hornets CEO Scott Duxbury went to the safe in his office, removed the hatchet entrusted to him by club owner Gino Pozzo and severed all ties with manager Javi Gracia.
A managerial change so early in the season wasn’t the wisest course of action to save Watford. Quique Sanchez Flores hasn't lifted the club an inch. Now, if their woeful form continues, corrective measures are as clear as mud.
They could give Quique more time to effect change. But how much? Watford still await their first victory.
Duxbury could bring in a new man with an entirely different background to either Spaniard. Nigel Pearson is available. The rough and tumble former Leicester boss ought to be able to strike up a friendship with Troy Deeney. As long as it isn't Mark Hughes.
The Hornets could also bring back Gracia, much as Monaco rehired Leonardo Jardim. Of course, the Watford ownership didn't seel the squad out from under their man as Les Monegasques did to Jardim. The squad barely changed from last season's FA Cup finalists. Did Gracia accomplish that with smoke and mirrors? Is it time to start considering life in the Championship?
The big mistake
Like rubbernecked commuters inching past a 20-car pileup on the A1, the first question is how did this happen? The Hornets are bottom of the League with a miserly two points on the board. They’ve not won a league game this term and have conceded a League-high 20 goals although, to be fair, eight of them came against Manchester City. If you're a glass half-full person, you can say that's only two goals more than the FA Cup final at Wembley, a minor downturn.
Gracia didn't have a handle on his squad to begin the season. The result was telling on the pitch. Three straight defeats against Brighton, Everton and West Ham spelt doom for the Spaniard. Those losses extended Watford’s poor league form to one win in 10 league outings when you factor in the last campaign.
Despite the disastrous start, the Watford CEO failed to grasp that Gracia’s team was still intact. Form is always temporary. Gracia enjoyed some good form in 2018/19. The fact Watford reached its first Cup final in 35 years makes a strong case for that point.
Watford didn’t sell their best players. Top scorer Gerard Deulofeu and the much-improved Roberto Pereyra didn’t move. Neither did the highly sought after Abdoulaye Doucoure.
Watford even spent €30 million on Stade Rennais winger Ismaila Sarr. The forward is yet to blossom at Vicarage Road, not unlike Richarlison when he arrived in the South of England from Brazilian side Fluminense.
Sacking Gracia so early in the season when his players weren’t at peak condition was a mistake. But the bigger mistake was with the man brought in to replace him. How quickly did Watford forget why they fired Quique Sanchez Flores?
Sanchez Flores is the ninth manager to take charge at Watford since the Pozzo family bought the club in 2012. He’s not a better manager than Gracia. Stats show Flores’ win percentage at Watford is a pitiable 25%. He didn’t win anything or reach any finals with the Hornets. Gracia’s claims a 37.9% win percentage at Watford and an FA Cup silver medal.
Expectedly, Sanchez Flores began his second stint at Watford in horrific fashion. That 8-0 humiliation at the hands of Manchester City buttresses the rhetoric.
Two monumental blunders by the club’s hierarchy, sacking Gracia too soon and replacing him with an inferior strategist, are why Watford should brace for the impact of relegation.
‘He that is down fears no fall’. The Hornets can’t sink any further from their current League position but they can rise if they manage this situation and put up a dying man’s fight in the coming weeks.
Unfortunately, Troy Deeney remains on the treatment table recovering from knee surgery. Sanchez Flores must find a way to rally his troops in his skipper’s absence. Watford’s players must start show commitment, especially in defence.
If they are resigned to the drop, however, they can’t make another mistake by sacking Sanchez Flores. The club has to make its players as comfortable as possible. Players, such as Adrian Mariappa, Jose Holebas, and Daryl Jamaat, whose contracts expire next summer should be offered an extension. The club must show commitment to its players if they want it in return.
There's no denying Watford is already in the relegation dogfight.