WATFORD'S MANAGERIAL MERRY-GO ROUND: DOES IT WORK AND WILL RANIERI SUCCEED?
With Xisco Munoz relieved of his duties after a 1-0 defeat away at Elland Road for the Hornets, another Watford manager has come and gone at one of the most cut-throat clubs in the top four divisions.
With managers barely lasting a couple of months before another kneejerk decision is made, it’ll be interesting to see how Claudio Ranieri - the main man behind the Leicester City fairy-tale - does in a job considered a poisoned chalice for some time now.
Cast your mind back 8 years ago, the ex-Chelsea great Gianfranco Zola at the helm and playing some attractive football with the likes of Troy Deeney in his prime and Almen Abdi at his goal-scoring best.
Watford haven’t had a manager since then accumulate more games than the Italian, 75 games before Zola stepped away from Vicarage Road.
Javi Gracia came close with 66 games as Hornets boss, the Spaniard the only manager since Zola to last 12 months in the dug-out.
Regardless of this chop-change approach, success has occurred for The Hornets - two seasons after Zola’s exit, the now Sheffield United manager Slavisa Jokanovic gaining automatic promotion. Even still, the Serbian lasted less than 40 games at Vicarage Road before he was given his marching orders - failing to transition that Championship success into the top flight, a factor that saw Xisco sacked similarly.
So, how did the former Levante footballer manage to bag the Watford position? The hierarchy at The Hornets seemingly love throwing an unorthodox name into the limelight, the failed experiment of Vladimir Ivic before Xisco only lasting 20 matches. Another unorthodox appointment, Xisco Munoz took over a Watford side full of talent 5th in the table. Beating fellow automatic promotion side Norwich in his first game in charge, the Spaniard allowed The Hornets to push on to the top two. Helped by the immense talent of Ismaila Sarr, 13 goals for a man who wouldn’t be out of place playing higher up in the Premier League, the squad at his disposal was crying out for a first time return to the top flight. With Joao Pedro, Ken Sema and even Daniel Bachmann earning an Austria bout at the Euro’s, Watford secured a comfortable 2nd under his guidance.
Yet, he remains another casualty on the ever-extending managerial conveyer belt down at Vicarage Road.
A win on the opening day might have papered over the cracks, beaten four times on the spin after the success in their first fixture. The Norwich away win was a confidence booster, Sarr showing his integral role for Watford in this one with two goals for the away side. A draw against Newcastle looked a positive result on paper, but up against a manager derided by an entire fanbase in Steve Bruce, Newcastle had the chances to win this encounter. The Leeds loss saw the twitchy powers that be relieve Xisco of his job, Watford outplayed for the majority of the contest but only losing 1-0.
Is it a case of a manager not attuned to the step-up? A man over-relying on the talent of Sarr as a get out of jail free card? Clearly, the hierarchy wanted a change, and in Ranieri, they’ve appointed a manager with a certain pedigree.
A man boasting a whole host of huge clubs on his resume - managing various Italian giants in Roma, Inter Milan, Fiorentina among others - Claudio was also the head coach of Chelsea before the Mourinho years followed after. A likeable coach by all accounts, Ranieri’s obvious plus is the fairy-tale he pulled off at Leicester City. Winning the league with the likes of Robert Huth at the back, Ranieri’s job at Leicester can never be understated - bringing the likes of Mahrez and Kante in, and paving the way for those two buys to move onto bigger and better things. Was this Premier League title success an anomaly for the Italian however? It has a feeling of a once in a lifetime moment, rather than an indicator of the Italian’s managerial nous.
Alongside that, his brief stint as Fulham boss in the 2018-2019 season saw 3 wins in 17 for the experienced Italian. Is Claudio the answer? Predicting what will happen with Watford is tricky, but this does feel a risk free appointment on Ranieri’s part. Reaching the end of his managerial career, another go at the Premier League will be a welcome bonus for him. Moreover, if it fails, he will at least leave Vicarage Road with a healthy pay packet that doesn’t taint his prior success.
With a squad boasting Emmanuel Dennis, Josh King and even the experience of Tom Cleverley, Watford stand a chance of staying up this season. 15th in the league, a platform is there for Ranieri that is far smoother than the Fulham squad he came into. Still, it’s hard to gauge what will happen. It might well be easier to predict that Ranieri won’t be a long-term option, with Watford’s managerial merry-go round their only constant.