The managerial churn at Vicarage Road is more than just the same old Watford – who once had justification for changing their head coach as regularly as their kits.
There were still a few eyebrows raised, but not many, when Watford dispensed with Rob Edwards, their 17th manager in 10 years under Gino Pozzo’s ownership, on Monday morning.
This is how the revolving door of Hertfordshire works. Pozzo’s next appointment at Vicarage Road will match the number of managers West Ham have had in their entire history. Moving on the man at the top is nothing new.
Though the reception from elsewhere has been withering to each departure, the response around the club has only recently followed suit. Once, Watford were unapologetic and bullish about their hard line on coaching staff, and the fanbase brought along as they established themselves as a Premier League club. Now, the ownership’s approach feels contradictory and patience is wearing thin.
“In Rob Edwards, we have appointed a manager we all totally believe in, and a manager who will lead and drive that change. We will be supporting Rob come hell or high water,” said Scott Duxbury, CEO throughout Pozzo’s tenure, several weeks after appointing the 39-year-old, whose most senior previous managerial position came at League Two side Forest Green Rovers.
The Watford he joined had just been relegated from the Premier League for the second time in three years, sent packing with a whimper and 15 points from safety, not aided by an unbalanced squad bruised by such a high turnover of managerial styles and philosophies.
After thrashing Manchester United 4-1 at Vicarage Road in November 2021 under Claudio Ranieri – already their second manager of the season – the Italian lasted just eight more league games, and they picked up only one more point at home en route to relegation. Far from having the last laugh over their hire-and-fire approach as they had in the past, Watford had now become the butt of the joke.
“We realised that to have sustained and successful Premier League football, then we had to change things,” Duxbury told the Watford Observer in June. “It’s not all about having talented players, it’s about creating a culture and environment built upon continuity. And that continuity starts with the coach.”
This tone struck an extraordinary contrast with the Watford of old. When they arrived in the Premier League for the first time under Pozzo seven years earlier, they did so having gone through four managers in their promotion season, and having already appointed a fifth in Quique Sanchez Flores to lead them into the top flight.
Though their approach was callous – Flores himself was dismissed at the end of that campaign despite leading the Hornets to the safety of mid-table – it was difficult to argue its success. The Hornets rarely feared relegation, and even flirted with a top-half finish under Javi Gracia in 2019 before finishing 11th, and still reached the FA Cup final.
Ultimately their decisions had proven well-judged, while perhaps cold. Pozzo and Duxbury were a shrewd duo with a sharp eye to detect the first hint of trouble at Vicarage Road, and would strike early before any manager could turn things too stale. But any run of good appointments can only go on for so long, and Watford were determined to keep on chancing their luck.
Things finally caught up with them in 2019/20, aided by a number of poor decisions. Gracia was sacked four games into the season, his replacement Flores – part two – lasted only 12 games, and their third manager of the season Nigel Pearson just 22, leaving interim boss Hayden Mullins to oversee their relegation on the final day of the season.
In Rob Edwards, we have appointed a manager we all totally believe in, and a manager who will lead and drive that change. We will be supporting Rob come hell or high water.
The calculated plan of the past had been replaced by chaos. Fast forward two years to another Premier League relegation, another three-manager season, and then those Duxbury quotes from the summer – even he had been forced to admit defeat.
That apparent change in tack, that self-reflection and humility make Monday’s actions all the stranger. Edwards’ start to life at Vicarage Road was not without its blemishes, with the despondent loss at Blackburn and late draw against recently-promoted Sunderland that seemingly sealed his fate unquestionably poor results and performances.
But had Jewison Bennette not fired home that late leveller for the Black Cats in what proved Edwards’ final game, Watford would be fifth, four points off second-placed Norwich after his first 10 games at Championship level.
“We felt Rob had enough time to show us the identity of his team, however, performances haven’t reflected our hopes and ambitions,” Pozzo told the Watford website when announcing the decision. Even allowing any justification for sacking a manager so soon, that seems a brutally harsh assessment.
What will resonate more widely both inside and out of Vicarage Road is the blatant contradiction with Watford’s stated philosophy just 105 days earlier.
And reports in the local media first that sporting director Cristiano Giaretta had been sacked, then that he had instead kept his job at the expense of Edwards, have done little to paint a picture of credibility at a club once revered for its overachievement under Pozzo and Duxbury.
Perhaps a leopard doesn’t change its spots. Perhaps new head coach Slaven Bilic will get Watford back to the Premier League at the first attempt. But even if he does, another flurry of managerial appointments next season would surprise no one – and those words from the summer will ring as hollow as ever.
October 2: Stoke (A) – kick-off 12pm, live on Sky Sports football
October 5: Swansea (H) – kick-off 7.45pm, live on Sky Sports football
October 8: Blackpool (A) – kick-off 3pm
October 15: Norwich (H) – kick-off 7.45pm
October 19: Millwall (A) – kick-off 8pm, live on Sky Sports football