Watford’s start to the season has brought with it reports that Javi Gracia’s position is under threat. Ludicrous short-termism, no? Well, perhaps not…
People love lots of different things. Some love a great big ribeye steak. Some love walks on the beach and romantic sweet nothings. Some love the satisfaction of putting a shelf up. Some love freeform jazz.
Watford love sacking managers. Or at least Watford did love sacking managers. The Pozzo family are on their tenth manager since taking control of the club in 2012. One year they got through four of them. But Javi Gracia is the only the second manager of their tenure to start two consecutive seasons in the dugout, the first since their maiden appointee Gianfranco Zola.
It’s been a full 20 months since they last called HR and asked them to look out the P45 forms. Nearly two years clean. In that time 12 managers have left Premier League jobs. Half the division’s clubs have changed managers at least once. But Watford have stayed still, a club who previously thrived on flux now finding comfort in stasis.
Not for long though, as according to reports they might be back in the game. Long months of abstinence might be coming to an end. The natural instinct to word that Gracia’s position at Watford is under threat is probably slight incredulity: after all, this is the manager who took them to a creditable 11th place last season, who took them to their first FA Cup final since 1983, and who as much as anything has clung onto his job for over 50 games, a rarity at Vicarage Road.
This, surely, is the epitome of hasty thinking. It’s only three games into the season for heaven’s sake. Patience, Watford, patience.
And yet. Watford have lost those three games so far while scoring only one goal, against teams they only lost once to in six fixtures last season. Go back to the end of last season and this is six defeats on the spin – seven if you count the evisceration by Manchester City in the FA Cup final. They’ve won eight games since last November, four of which were against teams relegated last season. To pick a slightly arbitrary number, they’ve collected 31 points from their last available 31 games: that’s borderline relegation form.
Even Gracia recognises he’s in trouble. “It is true,” said Gracia when asked about reports that he was under pressure. “What can I say? The dynamic is not good and we need to improve. I know that.”
And this is where Watford’s history comes in. This is a club for whom sacking works. A club who do not dither when a change is required. That season when they had four managers, even if not all of the changes were the result of a swinging axe, they got promoted from the Championship. They go against the traditional consensus that stability is the one true path to success.
All of which is not to say Gracia should go, and there are rational and emotional reasons for him to stay. For the former, their defensive recruitment over the summer amounted to bringing in Craig Dawson from West Brom, who split opinion in the Championship, never mind in the top tier.
What can I say? The dynamic is not good and we need to improve.
Also, some numbers: only four teams have more shots this season, so they’re creating chances but just not taking them, which suggests it’s an issue with the form of their forwards rather than a bigger structural problem that changing managers would solve. Those four teams (Manchester City, Chelsea, Liverpool and Spurs) have scored ten, four, nine and five goals. Watford have one.
For the latter, there’s undoubtedly a connection between Gracia and the Watford fans, as you might expect from a manager who took them to the FA Cup final. The ever-intangible and easily-mockable ‘he gets it’ factor is there. And as much as anything, when your club changes manager as many times as Watford do, when one sticks around for a little while a relationship will inevitably form.
Who knows: had Will Hughes not missed extraordinarily at 1-1 against West Ham on Saturday, they might have won, and they could have been away and sprinting. Similarly, should they win against Newcastle next weekend, all could be well again. So small are the margins.
And yet, the decision over Gracia’s future is not necessarily about this run of form, but more about whether this run of form is a portent of things to come. In many respects getting ahead of things and making a change before results have taken too much of a dive rather than waiting for them to tank is a responsible way to run a football club, even if it feels unpleasant on a human level.
The point is that while getting rid of Javi Gracia might feel harsh, for many reasons it probably shouldn’t be much of a surprise.
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