Johnny Phillips: Eat, sleep, sack, repeat - that's the Watford way

When football ownership goes rogue it is always the fans who suffer. The decision made by Watford’s owner Gino Pozzo to dispense with the services of head coach Rob Edwards after just 10 Championship games of the season really stinks. It is rotten for somebody who has steadily and diligently built a promising career, working at various age levels and lower down the league, somebody who deserved a proper opportunity to show his talents at this level. It is rotten for the backroom staff who are part of the collateral damage. It is rotten for the players who have been operating with no stability under this endless turnover of managers.


              
Watford manager Rob Edwards waves to fans following the Sky Bet Championship match at Ewood Park, Blackburn. Picture date: Tuesday September 13, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Blackburn. Photo credit should read: Isaac Parkin/PA Wire.


RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use 
with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.
Watford manager Rob Edwards waves to fans following the Sky Bet Championship match at Ewood Park, Blackburn. Picture date: Tuesday September 13, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Blackburn. Photo credit should read: Isaac Parkin/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: EDITORIAL USE ONLY No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or "live" services. Online in-match use limited to 120 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications.

But for Watford fans, where do you begin to start? Stuck in this nightmare cycle. Each managerial change greeted with a hint of optimism but also a far darker, overbearing fear that it will go wrong sooner or later, no matter who is in charge.

It must be tough to walk down the road in a Watford shirt these days. The interrogating from rival supporters - at work or in the school playground. “What on earth is going on at your club, mate?” As if Watford fans need to be asked where the problem lies at Vicarage Road. Social media is already awash with memes and gifs ripping the club’s reputation to pieces.

It is at times like this that football is no fun at all. The 2021/22 season was hard enough for fans to stomach. It offered a glimpse into the haphazard thinking at board level. What sort of a plan takes you from Xisco Munoz to Claudio Ranieri to Roy Hodgson? The Premier League season was over before it properly began.

For a short period it appeared Watford had something of the longer term in mind when turning to Edwards. His profile fitted that of a young coach with ambition. “We will be supporting Rob come hell or high water,” said chief executive Scott Duxberry on appointing the 39-year-old. In the summer, Duxberry spoke of building a culture and environment of continuity but those comments have aged as well as the new Prime Minister’s fiscal policy. The average tenure for a Watford manager under Pozzo is just shy of eight months.

Edwards lost only two of his 10 games in charge, drawing five and winning the other three. This is the Championship, arguably the most competitive league in Europe where the gap between success and failure is not wide. Last season’s Championship winners, Fulham, lost 10 games. Sheffield United and Luton Town made it into the play-offs despite 13 defeats. Anyone with a passing understanding of this division knows what a long and arduous season it is.

A while ago I was in the company of one of Edwards’s predecessors who had suffered a not dissimilar fate at Vicarage Road. He spoke of Pozzo as a genuine football fan who understood the game but said one of his obsessions centred on the “new manager bounce”. The idea that making a change leads to an upturn in results. Such a short-sighted philosophy should frighten every manager out there.

The great shame in all this is that Watford is a fine club. It is the beating heart of the community and has long been proud of the role it plays beyond the confines of the four stands. A lot of this goes back to Graham Taylor, who did far more than take Watford from Fourth to First Division in the late Seventies and early Eighties. Taylor took his players onto the factory floors and other supporters’ work places to show how much the club appreciated their commitment. He would engage with younger fans and, alongside chairman Elton John, played a key role in the formation of the Junior Hornets.

Watford was one of the first clubs to have a family enclosure, long before the formation of the Premier League and all-seater stadia. And that inclusiveness has stuck. There is a real sense of community and family when visiting this part of Hertfordshire.

On a professional level, a trip to Watford is always enjoyable, too. It has a fantastic media team who love the club. The stewards in the press room and in the tunnel always have a friendly greeting. In short, you are made to feel welcome. Pozzo is not just trashing his own image but he is letting down a far greater community.

He could do worse than heed the words of the club’s greatest ever manager. Back in 2016 I was fortunate enough to sit down with Taylor at Vicarage Road for a chat about the club’s glorious rise through the divisions. He was backed by a supportive board, led by Sir Elton.

“A Fantastic chairman, never interfered at all,” Taylor explained. “His view was: ‘We're paying him to be our manager, we’re paying him to run our team, to select the team. If it goes wrong it's his fault not ours!’ But that helped because you could talk to the directors about the team. The directors have never been given credit for sticking with me. In our first year in the Second Division we finished 18th and that could have turned certain directors.”

How times have changed. Watford are now onto their fifth manager in less than 12 months. Edwards’ cv is too good for him not to find a better home. He will be back coaching and building his career somewhere else soon. But for the loyal supporters paying their money through the turnstiles each week there is no future under this regime. This interminable cycle of purgatory. Eat, Sleep, Sack, Repeat. Watford fans deserve so much better.

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