Saturday, 6 June 2015

Managing the transition

Given that this is supposedly the quietest period of the off-season, with the transfer window not officially open for another three weeks, it’s been a busy week at Vicarage Road. We’ve signed two new players, re-loaned Matty Vydra from Udinese for another two seasons, waved goodbye to the head coach and two assistant coaches and replaced them with a new trio.

The fact that these things happened in the order that I’ve listed them is significant, as it highlights that the changes on the coaching staff aren’t actually quite as important as the rest of the football world may think. In the traditional English football club model, it’s unlikely that new players would be signed while the manager was in the midst of negotiations about renewing his contract. At Watford, player recruitment isn’t part of the head coach’s remit, and he is expected to create a winning team from the squad assembled for him by Scott Duxbury and co.

Although I’m sad to see Slav go, and there are the inevitable fears that accompany the arrival of a new head coach (will he get the players on his side, will he get his tactics right, will he understand the ‘Watford way’?), in one way I welcome this week’s events precisely because they deemphasise the primacy of the man on the touchline. It’s a truism that we (by which I mean the whole football world, from the fans to the media) fetishise the role of the manager, making him the focus of way too much praise and blame. Not only is that not fair on the poor sod in charge, but it gives the rest of the club, from the players to the board, an easy get-out when things are going badly. “It’s not our fault, it’s the manager’s; sack him and get someone else in, and everything will be fine.”

In fact, professional football managed perfectly well without managers for half a century or so; the club secretary picked the team and the players got on with working out how to win matches. I sometimes wish we could go back to that system. After all, shouldn’t 11 grown men be able to work out how to beat the opposition without having to be told?

Ah, but it’s all about motivation, isn’t it? Really? So if a team goes in at half-time 2-0 down, they wouldn’t be bothered about trying to get back into the game in the second half if there wasn’t a man in a suit there to shout at them and chuck teacups about?

I should say that I’m writing this as someone who – apart from a few five-a-side games in my twenties with a team from work – hasn’t actually played organised football since junior school. And I acknowledge that the example of Graham Taylor does rather undermine my argument about the role a manager can play in a team’s success… But I stick by the point that it’s good for the game of football if the manager isn’t viewed as being solely responsible for the performance of the team. At Watford, Quique Flores (we don’t have to say ‘Sánchez’ every time, do we?) will have an important part to play, obviously; but only within the framework created by the executive team.

Of course, it could all go horribly wrong and we could be in a crisis by Christmas. But I don’t think we will. The point of the Pozzo model is to create continuity within the club that means it can survive the departure of a successful head coach. I can’t wait to see how Quique gets on.

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