I hate international breaks. They’re two weeks of vacuous chat, interrupted briefly by crap football played by people that at best I respect for their significant ability, and at worst despise with all my being. The all-encompassing format that UEFA have introduced for the next European Championships means that we’ve had to suffer two of these atrocities before the season is even two months old. I last wrote at the beginning of the last one, hampered by a move to a weird city where fruit is really cheap and it rains a lot; but since that article saying farewell to a successful but divisive coach 35 days ago, three more have passed through the gates.
It took a while to write something about Beppe Sannino: his nine-month long reign – practically Victorian compared to the Lady Jane Greys of the past few weeks – was full of intrigue, arguments, ostentatious passion and, most importantly, a footballing narrative. There was so much to say.
But now the embers of two more reigns are smouldering at the feet of Gino Pozzo, and I’ll struggle to fill a paragraph.
Oscar Garcia came, lost to Charlton, and then went. You can’t blame anyone for his health problems – although it seems that the Spaniard may have known about an issue before joining the club and didn’t disclose it – and his extended leave of absence and then resignation was accepted by most fans. We’ll always remember his pained, down-turned smile.
Ruben Martinez, who has pretty much been the de facto head coach for the past month, held the fort while Garcia was in hospital and recovering before turning over the rudder to Billy McKinley, who was originally hired as a fellow assistant.
McKinley spoke a good game. He came across as a thoughtful coach who recognised strengths and deficiencies and responded to them in a positive manner. While Sannino was prone to speaking in over the top riddles and clichés, one felt that McKinley – an experienced and well-respected coach in the English game – was focused purely on the football and knew what needed to be done.
And then, one week later, he wasn’t the right man any more.
For several years now, we Watford fans have laughed in the face of accusations of corrupt foreign ownership, we chuckled at Massimo Cellino and his madcap attempts to invigorate Leeds, Vincent Tan and his power-mad rule over Cardiff was but an amusing vignette that we observed from our ivory towers of responsible and sustainable ownership.
The Pozzos know what they’re doing. Udinese and Granada were both heaved by the haunches into top divisions previously beyond their means; success was grown and improved on little-by-little rather than imposed at great cost before fizzling out and scorching all that went with it.
And at Watford every action had a justification: a new squad bussed in to give the project a kick start, Zola replacing the inexperienced Dyche to run the rule over a cosmopolitan group of players to whom England was alien, bringing in Sannino to add steel and then getting shot of him to shave off some of the excess steel. Gino and his gang always had a ready-made solution, but never seemed to act impetuously.
But that visage of infallibility is slipping. The club seems to be in turmoil behind the scenes. Along with Sannino’s departure, Gianluca Nani sloped off in mysterious and unexplained circumstances. A young replacement was introduced in his stead, while the scouting department was reduced in size. And at the forefront of it all, a managerial merry-go-round has spun out of control and threatens to fly off the rails at any moment.
Again, you can’t really attribute blame for the Garcia situation. Hearts are not things to be messed with (at least on a literal level), and Oscar’s decision to step down so that Watford could be led by someone with 100% commitment was as honourable as it was practical. But the Pozzos’ response to that is the issue.
For once, they were caught unprepared. Why didn’t they foresee the possibility of Garcia’s departure after over a week of health problems? Who knows, but instead of taking a step back and allowing Martinez and his team to continue chugging along – having amassed four points from two games – while finding the right guy, they panicked.
Billy McKinley, initially in line to get the Academy job vacated by Dave Hughes before being offered an assistant’s role was promoted once again to the top job. Again, one has to ask why he wasn’t given a caretaker role to give him the chance to prove his chops or the Pozzos to find a more suitable replacement.
Reports today suggest that Gino didn’t feel that McKinley had the experience needed to guide this squad, third in the league despite the months of upheaval, to promotion, and that replacing him now would avoid a more severe disruption later on in the season.
There is the argument that the quick response to a mistake is sensible management, and that in any other form of work you would expect a successful businessman to rectify their error rather than let it fester, but on a human level – one which doesn’t get my shrift in football these days – the sequence of events leave a really sour taste.
McKinley didn’t ask for this job, but having been given it quit his part-time coaching role with Northern Ireland to focus completely on Watford. Days later, after a good win and a hard-fought draw, he has been told that he’s not good enough, and asked to step down the coaching hierarchy. Billy, quite rightly, has told them to shove it.
And now, almost immediately, comes *checks notes* Slavisa Jokanovic, a guy with a pretty good record in Serbia and Thailand but who could be found last weekend taking charge of his first-placed Hercules in their Spanish third tier game against L’Hospitalet. By no means does his CV suggest unfettered success in the English game.
The speed of the appointment suggests that misgivings over McKinley were virtually instant, so why let him quit his international post? Why even appoint him in the first place? And why, when you think you’ve made the wrong decision are you jumping straight into bed with someone else? Surely the sensible thing to do now would be to interview a range of candidates, look at their record, their philosophy and really get to know your chosen replacement. The Pozzos must be experienced enough and wise enough to learn from their mistakes.
A telling source of the confusion going on at the club at the moment is the quotes. ‘Martinez expects Garcia to join up with players tomorrow’, ’McKinley says Garcia is better and looking forward to returning’ – these stories suggest that nobody has a clue what’s going on at the moment.
It seems to me that the Pozzos are panicking. The riches of the Premier League are so tantalisingly close, but are proving stubbornly out of reach. The first year raised expectations, the second aggravated them, and now the ownership is determined to do everything in their power to realise them. But a quick browse of the history books would tell you that four managers in the first two months of a season is not a tried-and-tested recipe for success.