Squeaky bum: Why the Pozzos could be considering Quique’s future

We learn from our duopolous local media that Quique Sanchez Flores is after a new long-term contract. The ‘tactical genius’ is, he says, in it for the long haul. One in the eye of the big clubs circling him.

But my question to you is, does he deserve one?

Although the nationals might occasionally paint them as such, the Pozzos aren’t trigger-happy fools, overeager to pull the rug on coaches as soon as they don’t meet fantastical standards set out for them, but neither do they overplay a bad hand.

Moving on from Slavisa Jokanovic in the summer, the one time the Watford owners have made a managerial move when they haven’t really had to, had an identifiable, if not overly justifiable, reasoning. Though he had won everywhere he had coached, it was thought that Jokanovic didn’t have the pedigree to entice and then integrate the kind of names that would be needed to move the club onto the next level.

Quique was the man for that, and in the first respect he has been reasonably successful. Who knows if we would have seen the likes of Etienne Capoue and Valon Behrami sign up if we hadn’t had the Spanish cap and Europa League winner at the helm. But can it really be said that he has brought these players on?

Capoue started brightly, presumably revelling in the released shackles of two years in captivity in Tottenham, but has fallen off massively since Christmas. Behrami also looked like he would be a key player, but has seen himself being overtaken by Ben Watson in the pecking order and is now a nice player to have when you’re starting four defensive midfielders, as Quique is wont to do. Other ‘big names’ like Jose Jurado – recruited, loved and laboured by the boss – and Jose Holebas started poorly and haven’t really improved.

Whenever Quique is questioned, the fact that we’re comfortably safe in the Premier League after our last two abortive visits is brought up. How can you complain?

But as the months have worn on, this argument has fallen flat. Because we’re not safe. We’re not safe because we’ve got nine points since Christmas, which by the next time we suit up will have been more than three months ago. It was at that time that our way of playing, which had got us a few good wins against the likes of Newcastle, Norwich, Sunderland and Villa, got found out. Since then we have been hopeless, hardly likely to score let alone win. Troy Deeney works to do everything on his own while the mismanaged Odion Ighalo lets him down by his side, as our midfield of defensive players stays ten yards behind the ball at all times.

At no point has it seemed like Quique might have the tactical nous to turn this around, to introduce an element that might catch some opponent on the back foot and reignite our season. But then again, how can you turn around a season if you can’t turn around a game?

We have earned a total of two points from losing positions this season. Two. Once a team has scored first, it’s game over.

And do we ever see a definitive change of shape? Do we see the big man Obbi Oulare come off the bench to try and change the way our attack is formed? Do we see the pace of Ikechi Anya give defenders something else to think about? Do we see the guile of Adlene Guedioura, the only of our attacking midfielders who actively tries to go in the direction of the opposing goal when he has the ball? Very rarely. One such time was as a last-ditch attempt to get something from 2-0 against Stoke this weekend. Within ten minutes of being brought on, Anya had beaten the fullback, put a dangerous ball into the box and we’d scored from our first proper shot on target.

I don’t want to make this about Jokanovic, but he rarely made a substitution that wasn’t geared towards more attack. If we were behind he wanted to get back into the game, if we were drawing he wanted to win, if we were ahead he wanted to put it out of sight. Quique just doesn’t make subs.

But, I hear you interject, we’ve just beaten Arsenal to make it to the FA Cup semi-final, on top of being almost safe from relegation but not really. Stop your whining.

It’s true: we were good against Arsenal. But that has really been the sum of our FA Cup run so far. We’ve stumbled past an uninterested Newcastle, we’ve dodged a not-particularly good Forest and we let a shambles of a Leeds beat themselves.

The last man to make an FA Cup semi, Aidy Boothroyd, doesn’t get that pinned to him when his name is getting dragged through the mud. Never mind that he did it with Moses Ashikodi and Anthony McNamee. Never mind that the season before he’d got us promoted with a squad expected to be relegated from the Championship. Never mind that in his Premier League January he couldn’t turn to a midfielder in his prime who’d played in one of the best international sides of all time to bolster his ranks, but had to make do with Will Hoskins and some low-stakes gambles from the French second tier. All Aidy is remembered for is Nathan Ellington – that £4 million albatross.

But we will let Quique get away with his glorious FA Cup run, continued by Danny Welbeck’s inability to stand upright consistently; a run which has barely seen the involvement of Steven Berghuis (£4.5m) and the aforementioned Oulare (£6m).

Now, I can’t fairly pin transfers on Quique (apart from Jurado), and have no access to the training ground, where everyone says he’s unparalleled, but there seems to have been no effort whatsoever to bring these two on. In fact, when Oulare has been given the opportunity to stretch his legs for two minutes at the end of games he’s looked genuinely dangerous. Not refined, not even good, but the boy’s sheer size has terrified the defences of both Swansea and Leicester. On both occasions things threatened to happen, bucking the trend of the preceding 87 minutes.

It’s this management of the players that aren’t in his eleven-man cabal that worries me, and should worry the Pozzos. Abdi and Anya both looked thoroughly pissed off on the touchline at Swansea, and the latter’s brother (for what it’s worth) has been quite vocal in his criticism of Flores.

Matej Vydra was shoved out on loan to Reading when the boss said he didn’t work hard enough to fit into Quique’s system in pre-season – a system that he then abandoned after a couple of games. He may not have pulled up any trees in the Championship (unlike Player of the Season-elect Fernando Forestieri), but wouldn’t it be nice to have a third striker at the club every now and then, for when Ighalo gets distracted by a mirror?

The management of Ighalo has been a big factor in our fall from grace. While he was always a good player on a great run of form, and so a drop-off was inevitable, the way that he has let the media slobbering get to him has brought the partnership with Troy crashing down, and with it all of our attacking prowess. That shouldn’t have been allowed to happen, and now it’s gone too far the other way. Upon receiving the ball now, Ighalo’s first thought is to play a pass, usually mistimed, always misplaced.

Wasn’t the management of great players what Quique was brought here for? Doesn’t he know the mindset needed to succeed in the top level?

This stream of consciousness is not me saying that Flores deserves the boot. It is me asking whether the Pozzos might be considering it. With Granada and Udinese both going up the spout, Watford need to succeed, and while we have said that 17th place would always be a perfectly good finish for this season, my arse it would.

Bournemouth have had their three best players out for virtually the whole season. Imagine Troy, Gomes and Cathcart being out since September. They were 18th at the beginning of December, with 10 points and no squad. They are going to finish above us. Comfortably.

We are 12 points off the relegation places, and will be saved (hopefully) by the sheer amount of crap teams below us. Will that be enough to save Quique? The team we have beaten this season are Swansea, Newcastle, Stoke (before they were good), West Ham (before they were good), Villa, Norwich, Sunderland and Palace. The bottom six, Liverpool and two teams that hadn’t yet found their feet.

The Arsenal FA Cup victory was the first time that we’d got so much as a draw off one of the top six, barring that West Ham victory.

Read those last two paragraphs again. They don’t strike me as the results of a man who should be counting his contracted chickens.

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8 comments

  1. Yawn. Negative hysteria if ever I saw it. To say we’re being “saved by the sheer amount of crap teams below us” is stupid. You’re essentially saying we’re better than the teams below us. Ergo we’ve achieved our goal set at the start of the season. It doesn’t matter who the 10 wins came against. There’s no rule that says survival is only possible if you beat a fair spread of PL teams over the course of season. We got promoted by ruthlessly picking off the bottom 8 Championship teams – something like 15 wins and 1 draw over the season against them – and have done something similar this season.

    I’m not coming on here to say it’s been pretty, or awfully entertaining, or that I’d love it to be the model for survival going forward. But it has been effective, we will stay up and pocket £100m for being at the big table next season. That was the target set in August. If Quique can’t develop the team from that point onward he will come under pressure for sure but that’s a debate for another day and he has earned the chance to prove himself.

  2. I actually agree with a number of points here, and certainly don’t buy the media’s ‘tactical genius’ label at this time. Jokanovic as you say seemed to have a much better nose for improving our performance over the course of a match.

    But I must counter one comment – West Ham were in great shape when we beat them early in the season. It was put down as a surprising off day for them at the time.

  3. A lot of fans have been seduced by Quique’s Europa Cup Win and think because of that we’re lucky to have him and his judgement should never be questioned. However, his career had been on a downward spiral after leaving Atletico and he was lucky to join an up-and-coming club like Watford, rather than us being lucky to get him as Head Coach.

    Can’t see his defensive mindset ever changing either – in a recent interview about the signing of Penaranda, one of the first things Quique said was that he needed to learn the defensive side of the game. This is when talking about one of the hottest 18 year old forward talents in world football. Just let him play his game without fear and overburdening him with instructions and systems!

  4. Ralph Power · · Reply

    Lots here to agree with. Don’t you greet our winning corners with a shrug? Professional scout behind me on Saturday timed our first midfield tackle at 41 mins. Want to lose all control in midfield? Stick Capoue out on the wing and Watson on the bench. Behrami and Suarez looked like end of pier entertainers having one more shot at the big time…

  5. Shakydd · · Reply

    Yep, I agree with a lot of this too. I don’t think it’s negative hysteria (sorry Jimbob), it’s more or less the truth (the West Ham bit aside, who were flying when we beat them at home). But thankfully there is some proper dross below us so, I do hope, we will be safe to build upon this season and progress the next. We certainly will need to see how the squad itself shapes up in the summer though because we have about seven central defensive midfielders and very few attacking options, even if we attempted to flood the bench with them. With three of the bottom four to play, let’s hope we get a win to secure next season Premiership footy and we’ll go from there.

  6. Ian Moseley · · Reply

    Interesting views here.I was surprised that nobody mentioned the very hard work put in by the team against Tottenham at home when a goal bound effort with minutes to go was cleared off the line and then an obvious off side goal was awarded to Spurs a few minutes later ( I was in direct line of site of that goal which was clearly off side ).The least the team deserved was a draw that day. Also there was the very late winner which we were unlucky to concede at home to Manchester United which could have been a very different story and by all accounts the very impressive performance away to United when all the reports indicate that Watford were by far and away the better side and if the finishing had been a bit more clinical that evening a win could well have been on the cards. I think we need to focus on the positives of some very hard working and brave performances over the season. Sometimes there is a dip in form which often happens. One key ingredient which I have firmly believed in since the start of the season is that there is a very strong team spirit in the camp which could be seen in abundance at the Emirates just recently which I firmly believe will stand us in good stead for the remainder of this campaign and next season as well.

    1. Shakydd · · Reply

      You know, I blame Spurs for working us out with that game! You’re right that we played well and were very unlucky with the goal at the end but the way Spurs played, real width particularly from Trippier, has basically been copied by every team since. And we’ve all seen the results from there…..

  7. […] March I took to these pages to inform you all that Quique Sanchez Flores’s time in charge of Watford was up. A few weeks and ample criticism later, it was leaked that the scarfed one would be moved on after, […]

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