After the most successful season in Watford’s history, it was a shock to read the news on Twitter, last Saturday, as Mr. WP posted Gracia!!!!!! with a lot of exclamation marks.
You know that empty feeling you get in your stomach, that’s what I had before I even looked further into the tweet.
It’s an unfortunate situation, as Gino Pozzo and Scott Duxbury reacted negatively to the start of this season, on the back of just 1 point after 4 game weeks.
Last year, this time the Hornets were 4-0, tied for first and everyone was on cloud nine.
This season, the start couldn’t have been much worse.
Currently Watford is in 20th, looking up at 19 teams and struggling for attacking returns, while conceding too many.
He came in as a relatively unknown on January 21, 2018 as he took the reins after Marco Silva was dismissed.
Silva lasted 66 games (57 EPL games) for Watford with a 25-13-28 record.
2017/18 – 4-3-7 (14)
2018/19 – 14-8-16 (38)
2019/20 – 0-1-4 (5)
Many non-supporters could look at the firing as anticipated, for a club that had a great running getting to the FA Cup Final.
While not our most glorious moment, it was the first time since Graham Taylor in 1984 the Hornets reach the finals.
The experience and run are something any Watford supporter will never forget.
Even though I don’t live in the UK or have ever been to a game, it was a great feeling seeing the Hornets play some good, inspired football, overcome the odds to play Man City.
Even in the 2018/19 season, the team wasn’t all that successful.
Yes, we finished on a team high 50 points for 11th place on the season, which could have been so much more based on how the season began.
Anticipation was high as Javi Gracia took control in his first full year.
The start to last year, inspiring but the next 11 games after a 4-0 start was disappointing, but patented Watford.
Over the next 12 games, just 2 wins, for 8 points and 7 losses.
This sort of losing streak had been patented Watford, but usually happening during the season half of the season.
Maybe it was pressure that got to the lads but Gracia was able to turn the team around heading into December.
There were some tough results later that season a few 0-0 draws against Burnley and Brighton with a few 1 goal decisions that didn’t go their way resulting in a single point or zero points.
As late as GW35, Watford was still in contention for a Europa League spot after taking 4 points the previous weeks, giving them 2 wins in the 4 weeks.
It would be a rematch with Wolves that saw the Hornets lose 3-in-a-row to end the season, conceding 9 goals, scoring just 2.
This off season, by appearance showed promise. Pozzo and Duxbury brought in Craig Dawson, to improve a leaky defense.
The late addition of Danny Welbeck on a free gave the Hornets more depth and experience on the front line.
By all accounts, based on previous experience probably the best forward Watford has.
The Hornets also added winger, Ismaila Sarr, for a record signing of £30 million!
All excellent additions that, on paper improved the team.
However, a poor start to the season exposed Watford’s smoke and mirrors, losses to Brighton, Everton and West Ham hit Gracia and supporters hard.
Last season, there was no individual bigger then the team and they played that way all season long.
Even in some of the losses, the team put in a strong performance, but couldn’t capitalize on opportunities.
Gerard Deulofeu was a prime example with a 36.7% shot accuracy and a goal conversion rate of 16.7% for the OOP midfielder partnering with Troy Deeney.
It could be said Javi Gracia overachieved with the squad he had last season.
After a disappointing 26 games with Marco Silva, Gracia was inspiring when he came to Watford.
He bought into the Pozzo way or doing business, was well liked by management, players and supporters alike.
He brought “professionalism and his positive attitude” as written by Ryan Grey in a recent article, as he was “happy to work within the Pozzo model, he got on with coaching the players and never kicked up much of a fuss in public or criticised anyone.”
Much like Silva, Gracia started to be criticized with team selection amid a poor start to this season, sticking to his guns and starting players who weren’t performing.
He would always say he had faith, not just in his starting XI, but those players off the bench.
Yet new lads, Welbeck and Sarr have combined for just 33 minutes, in parts of 3 games for the Hornets.
Gracia talked about finding balance, but that something the Hornets have struggled with through 4 games this season, a far fry from our form to start last year.
The dismissal came as a surprise to Gracia, “I want to express my surprise after completing the best season in Watford’s history.”
He finished his statement with, “I respect this decision and I’d like to reassure the excellent (sic) relationship I have with Gino Pozzo and Filippo Giraldi, and this is not going to change despite my abrupt exit of the club. I am grateful to this club for allowing me to manage this great club in the Premier League.”
“I want to thank every single person who works for this club and has made my everyday very easy. My gratefulness and love for this club will be eternal. And finally, I want to thank the fans for supporting me the way they did from day 1, until my last. I will always wish the fans and these players the best.”
In steps a Watford retread, why management went this direction, I am not sure.
QSF joined Watford in 2015, after the Hornets gained promotion to the Premier League.
In his 44-games in charge, he led the team to a 13th place finish with a 12-9-17 record. 10 points above the relegation zone.
He also got Watford to the FA Cup semifinals, losing 2-1 to Crystal Palace.
He departed at the end of the season, as the 5th manager over a 12-month period.
My opinion, this had been in the works for some weeks to find a new manager.
Just moments after Gracia was let go, Sanchez Flores was announced.
QSF is now the 10th manager since the Pozzo’s took control of Watford in 2012.
While he signed a 2-year contract, it will be very interesting to see what happens at the end of this season.
In his first go around, Watford management didn’t agree with QSF and his view on the 2015/16 season.
As supporter Ed Perchard wrote of Gracia, “He’s been let down by the tentative recruitment of players to bolster his squad, let down by both the footballing gods and the footballing God complex that is VAR, and let down by a hasty decision that focuses too much on results with undue consideration to more intangible outcomes.”
Not sure how Sanchez Flores slots into the picture, with a dismissal, you look for someone who can move the team forward, not play a similar system with similar results.
That won’t be tolerated, by fans or management if this poor outcome of games continues and Watford find them on 6-8 losses by the next international break.
My support for Watford is unwavering, but there will be some tough times ahead for the Golden Boys, hopefully a new coaching philosophy will inject some life into a rather lifeless team after 4 weeks into the season.