Consider the scene; You’re in a pub doing the weekly quiz. You smashed the “world flag” round, Dave has pulled a blinder in the “Tarantino round” and you’ve got a great chance of bagging the prize pot with the final classic “Sports Round”.
Then the questions drops as quickly as the faces on the table around you: “Name every manager of Watford’s “Pozzo Era”.
For any other club naming the all the men who had taken the helm over a seven-year period wouldn’t be too much of a challenge. For Watford however, it’s a different story. You’d need the photographic memory of Mark ‘The Beast’ Labbett (that fella off The Chase) to come anywhere close to naming every single one of the ten gaffers that have come (and gone) since the Italians took charge.
Let’s take a look at the list so far, how they did and what they’re up to now. See how many you can remember.
Gianfranco Zola: July 2012-December 2013
It wasn’t long after the Pozzo family completed their takeover that the decision to dispense with the services of current boss Sean Dyche (whatever happened to him eh?) and bring a more “continental feel” to the Vicarage Road dugout with the appointment of Gianfranco Zola.
The Italian had a strong first season in charge in the Championship pulling of some dazzling attacking football with a squad made up largely of on-loan players from the Pozzo’s home nation.
They were comfortably the leagues’ top scorers with 85 goals and were involved in one of the most memorable playoffs to ever take place. With the aggregate score at 2-2 in the 96th minute of the second leg against Leicester City, Watford were heading out if Anthony Knockaert scored from the penalty spot.
Manuel Almunia (remember him?) had other ideas and saved the spot kick (and the rebound), allowing Watford to break away down the other end, where Jonathan Hogg nodded down a cross for Troy Deeney to volley home and send the Hornets to the playoff final and cause a pitch invasion to rival all others. Sky Sports’ Bill Leslie also blessed us with some of the most spine-tingling commentary ever…
Unfortunately for Zola, Kevin Phillips’ 105th minute penalty in the Wembley final sent Crystal Palace to the promised land, and it was never the same for the diminutive Italian from there.
His second season in charge was less impressive and after a string of defeats at home, Zola resigned from his role saying that it was better for the club that he left:
“I feel that it’s in the best interests of the team that somebody new is given the chance to bring the success we have hoped for.”
Post Watford, Zola proved himself to be a thoroughly nice chap but not necessarily a very good football manager as he went onto briefly manage Cagliari (for who he finished his playing career), Al-Arabi in Qatar and Birmingham City – all briefly – before most recently returning to his spiritual home of Stamford Bridge as assistant to Maurizio Sarri.
Gianfranco is currently without a gig but no doubt got some great character references.
Giuseppe Sannino: December 2013 – August 2014
Sannino followed in the footsteps of his countryman to take control of the Hornets following Zola’s departure but his tenure would be half as long.
Despite managing for under a season in Hertfordshire it would be unfair to call Sannino’s time a failure. The Italian broke the club record for consecutive wins without conceding (6) and won the first five league games of the 2014/15 season but, with the club lying just 2nd in the table, walked away from his managerial duties when he claimed he had “gone as far as I can”.
The suspicion was that a dressing room revolt had led to his departure with players unhappy with his management style.
With seven clubs on his CV since his Watford departure (and 14 previous) it might be safe to guess that other players have felt the same way. A google search tells us that he’s now in charge of everyone’s favourite Hungarian outfit Budapest Honved.
Oscar Garcia: September 2014 – September 2014
With just four games under his belt as Watford manager, it might feel like a safe bet to claim that Garcia was the Hornets shortest-serving manager…but you would be wrong.
The Spaniard spent just 27 days in the job before stepping down due to ill health after suffering chest pains. He left with just a single win under his belt and a 25% win rate.
He returned to football 18 months later with Red Bull Salzburg and has since had spells at Saint-Etienne and Olympiacos in Greece.
Billy McKinlay: September 2014 – October 2014
McKinlay stepped up from first-team coach to head coach after Garcia’s departure. Despite being keen to take the job full time was only given two games to prove his worth before being given the elbow.
McKinlay had quit his job as Northern Ireland assistant boss having been given the Watford gig so was perhaps a little miffed when just 8 days later he was packing his possessions into a large cardboard box, especially given Scott Duxbury’s (Watford CEO) comment when McKinlay was handed the gig:
“In Billy McKinlay, we have someone with the qualities and significant experience to build further on the foundations already laid for a successful season ahead.”
I’m not sure how much building you can do in eight days but I imagine the results would be more garden shed then Palacios mansion.
Slavisa Jokanovic: October 2014 – June 2015
Jokanovic joined Watford with the dubious honour of becoming Watford’s fourth manager in just a single season, signing (probably wisely) a short-term contract with the club.
Excusing the unceremonious departure of McKinley in favour of Jokanovic, Watford owner Gino Pozzo said:
“Our job is always to act in the best long-term interests of this football club. There can be no compromise on this – whatever the circumstances.”
His interpretation of the phrase “long-term” turned out to be somewhat different from what many expected.
The Serbian came within a whisker to winning the Championship title and had to make do with promotion to the Premier League in second place after an impressive run of 15 wins in their final 20 matches… a feat he would repeat with Fulham a few years later.
It looked like Watford had finally found their man but that short-term contract proved to be folly and after failing to agree on an extension to his deal over the summer, the manager departed ahead of the 2015/16 season.
Quique Sanchez Flores: June 2015 – May 2016
Hugh Laurie Sanchez Flores was appointed as the man to keep Watford in the Premier League and fast became a fans favourite and for some (well, me), their footballing man crush.
Many predicted that Watford would experience top-flight football for just a single season but under Flores the team found their feet bringing in new players and visiting the dizzying heights of seventh in the table at Christmas.
The latter half of the season was a little less emphatic but 45 points proved enough to secure a 13th place finish and a second season back in the promised land.
Despite what many would consider being over-achieving in his first season (and common sense suggesting that some managerial stability would be a sensible route for Watford to take) it was announced by the club in mid-May that Flores would be leaving at the end of the season with the Spaniard describing the board as being:
“Coldly, pessimistically and without enjoying positive achievements”.
Safe to say a return at any point looked unlikely. Ha.
Walter Mazzarri: July 2016 – May 2017
Mazzarri joined Watford with an impressive CV of Italian footballing giants having spent time in the dugout at Sampdoria, Napoli and Inter Milan. His start at Watford was equally impressive picking up some excellent results before the turn of the year before a sudden downturn post-December. A post-festive crash that would become known as “doing a Watford”.
The season ended with six straight defeats leaving the club just clinging onto Premier League survival and once again the three year contract sitting in the Italians desk drawer was woefully optimistic and he was given his marching orders following the final game of the season. In reality, the departure had been on the cards for some time. Reports that the team didn’t gel with the “old school” boss with a difference of opinion over tactics, formations and footballing philosophy… or in technical terms “Pretty much everything”.
Duxbury told the media that the change had been made after a discussion about “goals and aspirations” where presumably it was explained that Watford’s main goal was to burn through as many managers as possible over a decade.
Marco Silva: May 2017 – January 2018
The appointment of Marco Silva was something of a coup for the Watford board.
The new boss may have been unable to save Hull City from relegation the previous campaign but he had come up smelling of roses and was one of the most in-demand managers in England come summer 2017.
An impressive start to the season saw Silva’s stock rise even further until November time, when his high status saw him heavily linked with the vacant manager’s job at Everton.
Silva was clearly keen to move and Everton clearly wanted Silva but the Pozzo’s weren’t about to part easily with their star man and refuse to release him from his contract.
The move never happened and the Toffees inevitably pulled the emergency cord and appointed Sam Allardyce for the big job. The damage had been done however and the approach had clearly turned Silva’s head. His focus was lost and the Hornets were sucked into a relegation battle.
On January 21 2018, in the ultimate act of Italian vendetta, Silva was sacked from his job, leaving much bad feeling on both sides.
Come the end of the season and Everton dispensing with the services of Big Sam, Marco Silva finally made the move up to Merseyside and one of football’s newest rivalries was born with Watford vs Everton forever being dubbed “The Marco Silva Derby”.
Javi Gracia: January 2018 – September 2019
Whether there were expectations that Javi Gracia would be “the man for the future” or not when he took charge of Watford is debatable, but alarm bells may have been ringing when he was handed just an 18-month contract at Vicarage Road.
Any suggestion that this would cause uncertainty were dismissed however with a solid league campaign, again securing Premier League safety coupled with an FA Cup Final vs Manchester City – the clubs first in 35 years.
His early success was rewarded with a new ‘long-term’ contract of four and a half years… of which he would serve under a year.
Just one point from his first four games of 2019/20 and reportedly an unwillingness to play new £40m signing Ismaila Sarr and free transfer Danny Wellbeck saw the itchy Pozzo trigger finger to start twitching and just a month into the season Gracia was sent packing as England played Bulgaria in the International break.
Quique Sanchez Flores: September 2019 – Who Knows?
The return of Quique Sanchez Flores into the managerial hot seat shocked many in the football media but it was clear that the ex and new boss had unfinished business in the Premier League.
He also had clearly learnt from his experiences and seemed unsure himself how long his tenure would be this time around saying that he would be working…
“Week-by-week, game-by-game” and cannot think too far ahead after becoming Watford’s 10th head coach in seven years.”
For how long Flores gets to sit in those nice comfy Watford dugout chairs remains to be seen, although any defeats that come close to the 8-0 hammering by Manchester City won’t help his cause.