There were more than a few raised eyebrows when following promotion to the Premier League, Watford announced that Slaviša Jokanović, the Head Coach that got them there would be moving on. In his place came Quique Sánchez Flores; Europa League winner, godson of the great Alfredo Di Stéfano and the best Hugh Laurie lookalike in the professional game.
Hornets supporters are used to the club attracting attention. Since the Pozzo family took over, Watford have come in for a unique mix of criticism, admiration, jealousy and general bemusement. As fans, we’ve long since got used to patiently explaining that despite the huge turnover of players and staff, there’s a coherent, sustainable master-plan, but it’s fair to say that a decent percentage of the Vicarage Road faithful were shocked and a little saddened to see Jokanović leave.
Some work for the new boss to do, then. Taking over a promoted side with a battalion of new players and a fan base that is not entirely sure what the heck just happened. The Spaniard will have accepted easier challenges. So, eight games in, how is he doing?
He’s made Watford hard to beat.
One of the main criticisms of the Watford side that won promotion was that the defence was too porous. The holy trinity of Vydra, Deeney and Ighalo meant that Watford scored a hatful, but their defensive colleagues conceded a fair few too. It was my biggest concern going into the new season, but apparently I needn’t have worried. At the time of writing Watford have conceded just 7 goals; no Premier League side has let in fewer.
Watford have had a decent start to the season, but there will be tough times ahead. Cast your eye over the festive fixtures for a stark reminder as to the size of the challenge. Surviving in the Premier League is going to be difficult, but being strong defensively is a magnificent foundation on which to mount a successful campaign and in this regard, Sanchez Flores has worked wonders. If I can say this with such confidence after Watford’s next fixture, Arsenal at home, I won’t be the only happy Hornet.
He’s not afraid to ruffle feathers.
The former Atlético Madrid coach inherited an ever-changing squad when he arrived in the summer. Watford broke their transfer on an almost weekly basis, with some (in the context of Vicarage Road) high profile recruits landing in Hertfordshire. Among them was José Holebas, a Greek International who spent the majority of last season keeping Ashley Cole out of the Roma first team. On the face of it he was an exciting signing, but doubt was immediately cast on the deal by the player himself, who despite the transfer being announced by both clubs, chose to publicly deny he was going anywhere. It’s fair to say that swapping the Champions League for Carpenders Park probably wasn’t high on Holebas’ bucket list.
Despite the confusing start, the Greek International started Watford’s first Premier League fixture away at Everton and to his credit, he turned in an encouraging performance in a 2-2 draw. He made one more start before disappearing without trace. He hasn’t been named in the past three match day squads.
The capture of Dutch winger Steven Berghuis also seemed like a shrewd move. He scored 11 times in 22 appearances for AZ Alkmaar and was reportedly attracting interest form more established suitors than Watford. Like Holebas though, Berghuis has struggled to make an impact and when pressed on the matter, Sanchez Flores has been remarkably forthright in his thoughts. “They aren’t performing well enough to be in my side” is the general gist of his stark assessment.
On one hand, it’s frustrating that these players aren’t making an impact, but perhaps more impressive and heartening is the fact that the Head Coach clearly isn’t interested in taking any nonsense. In an age where you can predict most of the questions from any given press conference, some straight and honest speaking is welcome. As is the underlying tone coming from the Hornets boss. Contrast the fulsome praise he heaps on the majority of players and staff with the cool dismissal of some of his charges and it’s obvious: muck in and do your best and you’ll be fine. Don’t and you won’t. For a boss facing a tough task, this can only be a good trait.
He’s got the look.
My Mum used to have a thing for John McClelland. I daren’t ask what she thinks of the current Watford boss. He’s always immaculately turned out, operates with an air of confidence, authority and calm, and does it all whilst successfully walking the most difficult tightrope of all – wearing trainers with smart trousers. He carries it off without fail.
Of course the appearance of the boss doesn’t matter one jot, but as we head into the International break things are certainly looking good for Watford and Quique Sánchez Flores.