Watford appoint Javi Gracia as their new manager

Club criticised the focus of Marco Silva in sacking him after approach from Everton

Javi Gracia has signed an 18-month deal at Watford. Photograph: Yegor Aleyev/TASS

Javi Gracia has signed an 18-month deal at Watford. Photograph: Yegor Aleyev/TASS

 

Watford have announced the former Málaga manager Javi Gracia as their new head coach following their surprise decision to dismiss Marco Silva.

Gracia arrived in England Sunday afternoon – shortly after news of Silva’s sacking was confirmed – and has signed a contract until the summer of 2019 having been approached by club officials before Watford’s 2-0 defeat at Leicester on Saturday.

In a statement, Watford made it clear Everton’s approach for Silva in November, following their sacking of Ronald Koeman as manager the previous month, was at the root of their call, with the team having won just three of their 13 games after Silva made it clear he wanted to move to Merseyside.

“This has been a difficult decision and one not taken lightly,” it read. “The club is convinced the appointment of Silva was the right one and had it not been for the unwarranted approach by a Premier League rival for his services we would have continued to prosper under his leadership.

“The catalyst for this decision is that unwarranted approach, something which the board believes has seen a significant deterioration in both focus and results to the point where the long-term future of Watford has been jeopardised.

“For the security and success of the football club, the board believes it has to make a change.”

Gracia, a former Spain Under-21 midfielder, has managed a number of clubs in his homeland, including Málaga, Cádiz, Almería and Osasuna. His last job was in Russia, however, at Rubin Kazan, whom he left after a single season in which he took them to ninth in the Russian Premier League.

The 47-year-old is expected to meet Watford’s squad for the first time at training on Monday and has become the club’s ninth head coach appointment in five and a half years.

Silva’s departure completes the rapid unravelling of an affiliation between coach and club that, for six months, appeared to be the match both parties had been waiting for. Instead it all feels like a waste and, certainly on Silva’s part, the result of a grave miscalculation.

Perhaps he and his representatives underestimated the resolve the Pozzo family would show when Everton came calling. The pull was obvious but after such an impressive first quarter of the season, Watford were in no mood to accept even the most attractive of packages.

Silva made it clear he wanted to leave but situations of this kind are hardly extraordinary and had business continued as usual then the matter may well have been parked until the end of the season. What forced Watford to act now was the fact that Silva’s frustration seeped so manifestly into the operation he oversaw. His team took 11 points from the 13 games that followed Everton’s approach in mid-November, which included an offer of £10m for the Portuguese’s services.

The source of the distraction seemed obvious, particularly to those who had watched Silva’s side perform with such brio earlier in the season. A 4-2 defeat might seem an eccentric example with which to exemplify the latter but, when Watford went toe to toe with Chelsea on 21 October, the future could hardly have looked brighter. They should have been out of sight before the champions came back with three goals in the last 20 minutes; if they finished well beaten the enduring impression had still been of a slick, dynamic attacking outfit with a menacing glint in its eye, happy to handle themselves physically and face top-six opponents on their own terms.

Since then the pattern has been, as Watford’s statement put it, “a significant deterioration in both focus and results”. The suggestion was that others’ heads had been turned too; that is hard to quantify and for every observation that the Brazilian forward Richarlison, to take one example, has not scored since November it should be pointed out that this is the 20-year-old’s first year in England.

But Richarlison hardly left his thoughts open to interpretation when, three hours after Silva’s departure was confirmed, he tweeted an angry-faced emoji.

It is hard to escape the impression that Gracia will have a few HR problems on his hands.

In many senses, Silva’s motivations can be understood. The Pozzos’ propensity to change manager annually will not have escaped him and in football it makes sense to grasp opportunities while on an upward trajectory. Neither he nor the club will have been planning for the next five years when he arrived in July after that valiant attempt to save Hull.

Ignoring the context and their position in the league table – Watford are 10th and have not finished this high since 1986-87 – this suggests a familiar element of panic from a top-flight also-ran. But every side below eighth-placed Burnley is in danger.

The suspicion is that Watford, who purposely created a model that survives the rotation of head coaches, will be fine. Silva’s future is of greater immediate interest. He is undoubtedly a talent but, at 40, has already had five clubs. While he improved Hull last season, and Watford this, he has emerged a year later with his position arguably weakened. Everton may well retain an interest although they are committed to Sam Allardyce for another 18 months.

Silva will attract offers but may now have to compromise: few would argue that he has achieved enough to be a contender for a top job, while those closer to Watford’s position will take note of the fact that he treated the Hornets with cynicism.

He created one of this season’s most exciting top-flight sides, only to overreach; the result is that both he and his former club have learned lessons the hard way. – Guardian service

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