It’s not worth getting attached to a manager if you’re a fan of Watford Football Club. They never stick around for very long, and they’re likely to be fired at the drop of a hat even if there’s nothing necessarily wrong with their performances. The latest casualty of Watford’s relentless managerial merry-go-round is Xisco Munoz, who was dismissed over the weekend after ten months in charge and just seven games into the new Premier League season. Astonishingly, that left the club looking for its fourteenth permanent manager in just ten years.
It’s difficult to say what Munoz did to deserve being shown the door so abruptly. He led the team back to the Premier League from the Championship at the first time of asking last season, achieving automatic promotion by virtue of finishing in second place. Watford was fifteenth in the table and ahead of teams like Leeds United, Southampton, and Newcastle United on the day of his dismissal. Munoz had won two and drawn one of his seven games. For a team looking to establish itself in the league after a season away, that’s not a bad return. We find ourselves wondering whether Watford’s owners, the Pozzo family, are actually aware they run Watford rather than, for example, Liverpool or Manchester City.
Perhaps that comparison is inaccurate. Perhaps it would be fairer to say that they behave more like they own an online slots website and casino than a football club. We suspect that most of you know how to play online slots, and the route to success is always the same with them. If you’re not winning, spin again until you do. So long as you can afford to lose the money and you’re confident that you understand the odds, keep on spinning until you eventually land the online slots jackpot.
It’s all a matter of sticking in there long enough to do it. Watford’s board does that with managers. If it doesn’t like the look of things, they spin the reels again and get themselves a new one. Munoz is the latest to discover that to his cost. His predecessor Vladimir Ivic lasted five months. Nigel Pearson was there before him and lasted eight months. Quique Sanchez Flores lasted four months before Pearson, and so the pattern goes on as you look back through the club’s recent history.
Some of Watford’s fans are happy with this chop-and-change approach. They point to the fact that Watford spent most of the decade prior to the Pozzo family’s arrival outside the Premier League, and now they’re almost always in it. They also point to substantial investment in the club’s stadium and training facilities, as well as an improvement in the quality of the players arriving at the club. It’s impossible to ignore the amount of money that the Pozzos have spent and continue to spend on Watford, and only the most hardened cynic would suggest that they don’t want the club to do well. They make these regular changes because they believe. Common football logic says that creating so much upheaval so often ought to have a detrimental effect, but that doesn’t seem to happen. With the exception of that relegation in the 2019-2020 season (during which Pearson, Flores, and Javi Gracia were all managers on permanent contracts at one point), they’ve been stable. Relegation aside, they’ve even made progress in cup competitions.
Whether that stability and progression will continue with their latest managerial appointment remains to be seen. The new man at the helm – for however long he’s allowed to remain there – is 69-year-old Italian coach Claudio Ranieri. This is a man who will need no introduction to Watford fans or to fans of English football in general. He will always be remembered in the English game as the man who won the Premier League against all the odds with Leicester City in 2016. That achievement was a footballing miracle – a once-in-a-lifetime event that’s unlikely to be repeated during our lifetimes. It was also a fluke. Everyone remembers Ranieri’s victory. Far fewer people remember him being fired by the Foxes the following season with the club struggling in both Europe and the domestic league. Even fewer people remember Ranieri’s three-month stint as Fulham manager between 2018-2019, during which he won just three of his seventeen games in charge.
Ranieri’s most recent job was a two-year stint as manager of Sampdoria in his native Italy, during which he led the team to a 15th place finish in Serie A in his first season and a 9th placed finish in his second. He didn’t want to renew his two-year contract when it expired in summer 2021, and nor did the club seem especially interested in persuading him to stay. Finishing 15th or 9th – or even spending too long hovering around those positions – won’t be enough to satisfy the Pozzo family. Nothing short of challenging the top six would appear to be good enough for them, and Watford’s prospects of challenging for the top six are every bit as remote as Leicester’s prospects of winning the title were in 2016. As we said, though, that was a once-in-a-lifetime miracle. The overwhelming likelihood is that Watford will remain in the mid-to-lower table positions, and Ranieri won’t see out his new two-year contract.
At the age of 69, Ranieri isn’t an appointment for the future. Nor is he stupid. He’ll know the history of the club and who he’s working for, and he’ll know it probably isn’t worth going looking for a permanent home in the Watford area. He’s at the club because he loves coaching football teams, and he’s not ready to retire from the challenge of doing so. His chances of still being in the dugout when the season ends are about the same as his chances of still being in the dugout on New Year’s Day 2022. Only a fool would bet money on it either way. We could be wrong – lightning could strike twice, and Ranieri could lead Watford to the promised land – and if so, we’d love to see it. For now, though, Watford has become the first Premier League team to change their manager this season. Don’t be surprised if they also become the second a few months from now.