What a bloody mess.
Marco Silva has been sacked after 24 games at Watford, a week before the end of the transfer window and with the club peering over the edge of a precipitous fall back into the Championship.
Things like this usually set off the usual spurts of football tribalism: ‘our player can’t be racist’; ‘we didn’t want our best player anyway, I’m glad he’s gone to our rivals’; and the most common refrain from Watford fans, ‘Everyone else doesn’t understand, we had to get rid of our manager’.
Admittedly, this has, for all but one case under the Pozzos, definitely been the case (Gino sees Slavisa Jokanovic in his nightmares), and is again. But amongst the spirited retorts to the likes of Gary Lineker and Jake Humphrey and some blokes from the Sun, we have to also note one thing: Watford is a bit of a mess.
Everyone has taken their eye off the ball. Silva was perhaps the most pressing and most easily rectifiable. The club’s statement pulled no punches, Silva’s focus had suffered ‘a significant deterioration’ patent in a complete lack of inventiveness, thrust or attention in the side since November.
The spectre of Silva spending games leant against the dugout, showing little emotion outside his badly-veiled barbs to the board in press conferences, wore far too thin. Where last season Walter Mazzarri’s frustration seeped through to the team, turning them into a bunch of mardy bastards, Silva’s downing of tools turned the team from an average one that fought for points to an average one that let them slip away through carelessness.
But, when he did moan about promises broken and a lack of investment he had a point. The side that started the season so well has been depleted by mystery injuries, with many well behind schedule for a return to fitness or not given one to begin with (does anyone remember Miguel Britos existing?). But most of those are based in the midfield, our main strength. The misfiring front line and swiss cheese defence hasn’t got as many excuses.
At full strength, our rabble of centre backs is nowhere near good enough. Britos is fine sometimes; Kabasele is capable of the imperious, but more prone to the horrendous; Prodl can’t play in a back four and Wague, our best performer at the back in the past month, is merely fine.
We are a team that needs to score more goals than the opposition to win. All those good results from the first half of the season were borne from an exciting attacking side nicking a few goals to rescue the defence. There has been absolutely no investment at the back since the Pozzos arrived, and it is an area that needs immediate and focused attention.
Silva, perhaps playing a PR game, assured fans that several signings were on the way early on in January, a claim that was refuted, in clearly calculated fashion, by the club in an interview on the club’s website. There were politics at play here, and today’s sacking has clearly been in the offing for some time, but crying foul over the conduct of Everton and Silva masks the fact that the management has let things slip.
To their credit, however, Gino and the lads seem to have seen the light, and are trying to put things right.
From the outside it is impossible to say why we seem to suffer so many injuries and, more importantly, seem incapable of responding adequately to them. But the management have acted swiftly to try to remedy the medical issues, quietly appointing a new Medical Director in Emilio Lopez-Vidriero this week.
Giving Silva the boot, with another 18 months on his contract, a couple of months after turning down what could be between £10 and £18 million for his services depending on who you believe, shows an admirable eschewing of ego on Gino Pozzo’s part. It won’t look good in the end-of-year financial reports or the papers, but if it keeps Watford up, it will be worth every penny.
There is a very real danger that Watford will be relegated this season – something that the top bods are very clear about: ‘the long-term future of Watford FC has been jeopardised’, says the club’s official statement. But they will move quickly to replace him (Javi Gracia will probably have signed his contract by the time I upload this), and an over-the-top last week in the transfer market will probably be enough to steer us clear of demise. This year.
Silva, however, has spilt a whole ink pot over his copybook. The most learned and prescient among us – the Paul Mersons of this world – were unconvinced by his record, even at Hull, where he made an appalling side slightly less terrible, but still took them down. But the credit he earned in doing so was well on its way to being cashed in when he took Watford to the brink of the top six by the end of October.
Everton, a club with money but little direction, went early for Silva. But had he reached summer with even a slight downturn (with Watford’s thin squad who could deny him that), he would have been linked with the real big boys – your Arsenals, your Chelseas, your Liverpools. Instead, he lost his damn mind.
When appointing Silva, the club would have been in no doubt that they were a stepping stone for one of the hottest properties in football management, but Everton did not come close to representing the opposite river bank. Watford did him a favour, and held firm. Everyone’s a winner: the club is seen as no mug, Silva can carry on his fine work, and Everton – a midtable rival – are weakened.
That Silva didn’t see this could set his career back years. Now, having spat out his dummy and driven his side into the ground, he won’t be getting any calls in England (maybe a desperate Southampton in a few weeks). He’ll get a Malaga or an Espanyol, but he will have to do a transformational job there to get to where he wants to be, where he could have been this summer.
Watford are in a better place this evening than they were this morning. Marco Silva has got what he wanted, he’s free to speak to all the big clubs he wants. But the next four months could make for a hard watch if the decisive action taken this weekend is not followed by similar graft in what remains of January.