Javi Gracia must have known what he’d signed up for. The Spaniard pitched up at Vicarage Road in January of 2018 as Watford’s fourth manager in just three-and-a-half years. Having gone through Quique Sanchez Flores, Walter Mazzarri and Marco Silva in quick succession, the Hornets had become the Premier League’s most trigger happy club.
Rather than being a weakness, though, this was a strength. Such willingness to change manager was not a sign of desperation, but a by-product of the overarching system in place. Unlike most clubs, Watford are not beholden to the cult of the manager. They are just one part of a bigger plan. Mangers at Vicarage Road are therefore more dispensable.
It was therefore unsurprising that Gracia, having gone eight games without a win, was sacked over the international break. The man himself must have known the bullet was coming, with Watford rooted to the foot of the Premier League table as the only team without a win after four fixtures of the new season.
This is the approach that has sustained Watford as a Premier League club since their return to the top flight 6 years ago. Gracia had to go. The Hornets were only trending in one direction. Their play was growing stale with such a dismal start to the season raising the risk of relegation back to the Championship.
At odds of 5/2, they might still be a decent bet to go down, especially taking into account the return of Flores to the club as Gracia’s successor. The 54-year-old’s re-appointment doesn’t exactly exude vision. This might be the first time in the Pozzo era that Watford have lacked a clear blueprint for the future.
Since leaving Watford at the end of the 2015/16 season, Flores has suffered something of a career decline. At Espanyol, he just about held his own in his first season, leading the Catalan club to eighth place in the 2016/17 campaign, but was then sacked before the end of the 2017/18 season due to a run of dreadful results.
After that, Flores went to China to become Shanghai Shenhua manager where he lasted just six months. What have Watford seen from the Spaniard in the past three years that suggested to them that he was the right man to save their season? And if they have seen nothing, why did they forced him out of the club in the first place?
Flores at least has talent to work with. Abdoulaye Doucoure is one of the best midfielders of his mould in the Premier League, while Will Hughes, Gerard Deulofeu and Roberto Pereyra are capable of making a difference. The pressure is on Flores to hit the ground running, though. He must make use of Watford’s talented squad.
This weekend’s home game against Arsenal will provide an indication as to whether Flores was the right appointment, with Watford 13/5 to claim a win over the Gunners. He won’t be afforded much time to get things right and that’s why odds of 25/1 for Flores to be the next Premier League manager to be sacked also represent decent value.
Chairman Scott Duxbury has more than once stated that the lifespan of a Watford manager should be no longer than two years. With this in mind, Gracia was unavoidably coming towards the end of his time at Vicarage Road. But Flores’ return doesn’t necessarily mean things will get better. In fact, for the first time in a while there’s reason to believe things might get worse for Watford.