Reading the superb Graham Taylor In His Own Words over the Christmas holidays, at the same time as Marco Silva’s team was imploding, got me thinking about Watford managers and how that first golden era is connected to the current one – slightly less golden right now, it’s true, but still holding immense promise.
It’s simple enough, and I’m sure I’m not the first to point this out, but in the current climate, it’s a point worth reiterating. The link is that, for a club the size of Watford to punch above our weight, we need to find a new way of running a football club; one that gives us an edge that other clubs, more hidebound by tradition, can’t or won’t emulate.
Back in the late 70s, Elton John gave Graham Taylor unprecedented power (and, lest we forget, more money to spend than any of his predecessors had enjoyed), such that he was able to make decisions about pretty much every aspect of the club. Elton trusted GT’s vision, and the manager picked up that ball and ran with it, taking the club with him all the way up the league and into Europe. I don’t believe any of the other iconic managers of the era, not even Brian Clough, had such wide-ranging power over their club. Elton took a gamble and GT’s passion, judgement, inventiveness, charisma and will to succeed did the rest.
Fast-forward nearly 40 years and Gino Pozzo has achieved a comparable feat by doing almost precisely the opposite to Elton. Recognising how much football has changed in the 21st century, the Pozzo model works precisely by minimising the power of the manager, who isn’t even called that any more; the fact that Watford now have a head coach isn’t just a question of faddish terminology, it recognises that Javi Gracia isn’t expected, or indeed allowed, to manage the club. He is merely the most senior member of the coaching team, there to decide on tactics, pick the players to execute them and do what he can to ensure they do that on matchdays.
The fact that Watford are now in their third consecutive season in the Premier League, despite the turnover in head coaches, is proof that it works. Make no mistake, the reasons we achieved promotion from the Championship were, in order of importance:
1) The Pozzos’ money and player recruitment
2) The players
3) The head coach
That’s not to say Slav didn’t play a crucial role. After all, he succeeded where Zola and Sannino had failed. But he simply added the last 5% that pushed us over the line, and the fact that Gino was happy enough to proceed into the Premier League without him suggests that his assessment of the head coach’s importance roughly matches mine.
Of course, this system only works if the head coach recognises and accepts this role. It’s still an alien concept to most people in English football and the media, as the coverage of Silva’s departure this past week amply demonstrates, which is why Gino continues to recruit head coaches from Europe. Let’s hope Javi is on board with the Pozzo model in a way that Silva clearly wasn’t, from the moment way back in August when he complained about Nordin Amrabat being loaned out without him being consulted.
The mark of how much has changed between the two most successful eras in Watford’s history is this: while one is indelibly linked with a single manager, the other depends for its continuation on a series of head coaches who will have done their jobs if, in another 40 years’ time, we can’t quite remember their names.