Ever-changing Watford continue to defy convention
Written by Simon Austin — September 13, 2019
WE’VE written a lot about the importance of cohesion for high-performing teams on this website.
Stability on and off the pitch has been shown to help sides perform better, with the formula skill x cohesion = performance capacity put forward by one analytics company working with Premier League teams.
Watford, last season’s FA Cup finalists and a Premier League side for the last four seasons, thumb their noses at this theory though.
The Hornets have just appointed their 10th manager since Gino Pozzo bought the club in 2012. Once again, this has led to a new (and largely foreign) backroom team being assembled. Since being promoted in 2015, they have, on average, bought and sold more players than any other team in the division.
Yet the strategy has worked.
No team in the Pozzo stable of clubs - the family has owned Italian side Udinese since 1986 and La Liga outfit Grenada from 2009 to 2016 - has ever been relegated and Watford have been comfortably mid-table for most of their four seasons back in the Premier League, despite having the fifth lowest wage bill last season.
This success applies away from the pitch as well. Since 2015, their annual revenue has increased by more than £100m and last year Pozzo rejected an offer of £125m for a 35.7% stake in the club from New York-based Prolific Media.
This valued Watford at £350m - not bad when you consider that the Italian bought them for £500,000 plus their £10m debt in 2012.
While there has been little stability among the playing or backroom staff, a key triumvirate has remained in place since the start. One, of course, is Pozzo, who has an office at the training ground and is hands-on when it comes to recruitment and the running of the club.
The second is lawyer Scott Duxbury, who helped with the takeover from Laurence Bassini and is now both chairman and chief executive. Finally, there is Italian Filippo Giraldi, who watched the team for Pozzo prior to his takeover, before becoming chief scout and then Technical Director in 2016.
In an excellent article about Watford in the Financial Times last year, Duxbury explained: “If we simply replicate what the bigger clubs are doing, we will fail, because we don’t have their resources.”
He was unapologetic about the churn of managers, because they “have a limited shelf life”.
"They will either be very successful, and maybe go to another bigger club, or they won’t work out and move on. We don’t want that disruption when a coach leaves.”
Watford’s strategy has always been to act quickly and decisively if a manager is underperforming, which means the sacking of Gracia should really have come as no surprise to pundits like Chris Sutton, who described it as “a disgrace” that “can’t be justified”.
Unlike other clubs, such as Huddersfield, who only sacked assistant Colin Bell when Jan Siewert was replaced as manager by Danny Cowley last week, Watford are happy to make wholesale changes to their backroom staff when a new boss comes in.
So when Quique Sanchez Flores replaced Gracia, out went Jesus Casas, Juan Solla, Inigo Arteaga and Zigor Aranalde, and in came Antonio Diaz Carlavilla, Juan Carlos Oliva Fornos, Dean Austin, Oscar Garcia and Cote Gallardo.
Three of them - Carlavilla, Austin and Gallardo - had worked with Sanchez Flores at Vicarage Road before, which should help with the transition. Add in the fact that Sporting Director Andy Scott was moved aside at the end of last season and is now head of recruitment at Swansea, and you see that there really has been a sweeping of the decks at Vicarage Road, aside, of course, from Pozzo, Duxbury and Giraldi.
The whole approach might seem counter-intuitive, but it has worked. As Garcia said shortly after his arrival last year, “When you join Watford, you know what you are going to find.”