Inside the turning point of Watford’s relegation season

On Friday the 21st of January a huge match awaited for both Watford and Norwich City fans as both of their teams were set to play each other in the league at Vicarage Road at 8pm; victory for either side would be huge especially for Watford after the club had a dreadful record of nine defeats in the last 12.

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I was told by a senior source at the club, before the Norwich match, that the Watford board felt quite frustrated with recent results but didn’t consider sacking Claudio Ranieri anytime soon as the owners and board wanted to wait until the international break to make a definitive decision especially heading towards the crucial stages of the season.

The Hornets’ board felt somewhat sympathetic for Claudio as some of the performance levels shown in some games hadn’t been too discouraging, especially in the circumstances the Watford head coach found himself in. For instance, he had to deal with many injuries to key players along with losing some of his best players due to the African Cup of Nations.

Watford sat a place above the relegation zone in the Premier League table going into the game, knowing if they had lost and Norwich had won they would be in the relegation zone for the first time this season. Moussa Sissoko, the Watford captain sent a message to the Watford fans urging the ‘Hornet fans to come and support the team’.

For all of the players, I am going to ask you to make a decision here to be here tomorrow night to support us against Norwich.

With all this being said, Watford managed to sign four players during the January transfer window, with three of the four players that were brought in, came via Mogi Boyat who is a Football agent currently under investigation in Belgium – someone the Watford fans understandably don’t want to be associated with but Gino Pozzo seemingly does. From what I understand, Ranieri had no say in the new signings in the January transfer window, he was just given players and had to figure out how to use them in the squad.

The game kicked off to a roaring 20 odd thousand fans chanting ‘there’s only one Graham Taylor’. Also, the pitch was a faint sight after the fireworks that had been sparked off pre match, only minutes before the kick-off- it was an atmosphere that the players only could have wished for.

Watford found themselves 2-0 down after 74 minutes after Norwich’s two goals in quick succession. The atmosphere in the stadium suddenly became toxic, Emmanuel Dennis saw red, and Watford were down to ten men. The referee Mike Dean blew the full-time whistle as it ended 3-nil and the fans that stayed and watched the abysmal performance until the last second felt let down so rightly let their frustrations be known by jeering and booing the team, which included a chant about Ranieri ‘getting sacked in the morning’, which set the mood around the club

Watford’s season had effectively fallen apart, the lack of desire and effort is never an excuse for a team fighting for their lives which Ranieri referred to in the post-match interview after the overwhelming loss.

I don’t want to go away, I want to continue here because I’m a fighter, I will never give up in my career, this is a good team, but some players need to change their mentality, and some players need to look up and follow Sissoko and Cleverley. I speak to the board every day, we are on the right way we just need to react.

– Claudio Ranieri post-match interview via Sky Sports

I understand that Ranieri was furious with Emmanuel Dennis and another player as they both completely ignored the instructions that was given to both of them pre-match. Inside the dressing room tension was high and players argued with each other, someone close to the dressing room told me a Watford player even confronted one of his coaches because of his training sessions, this was just the nail in the coffin for the Italian boss and his time at Vicarage Road was coming to a cease.

The Watford hierarchy held an emergency board meeting hours after the defeat, with people involved in the meeting describing the night as a ‘total shambles.’

After a relatively short meeting, the board concluded that an immediate change of head coach was needed. It’s understood that previous sporting director Luke Dowling was given the go-ahead by Gino Pozzo, to find Claudio Ranieri’s successor.

All the Watford players anticipated the removal of the head coach Claudio Ranieri, following the defeat to Norwich. I understand that a board member went to the effort to go behind Ranieri’s back and asked senior players about the atmosphere at the training ground and around the club since Claudio’s arrival, most of these players spoke negatively about the coach; one player even described his training methods as ‘lethargic and archaic’.

During the last two weeks of Claudio Ranieri’s tenure at Watford, I was told he completely changed the setup of his training, which included extra work off the ball to put more emphasis and focus on the team’s shape out of possession, along with attacking and defending set-pieces, someone close to Ranieri said he was frustrated with the team as they lacked ‘football basics’ but did have some good individual players.

The Watford board look back on the decision to appoint Claudio Ranieri as an oversight, which was primarily pushed by Gino Pozzo as many board members and senior figures at the club felt at the time that it was too soon to part ways with the Spaniard Xisco Muñoz. It is said that the decision to appoint the previous Premier League winner caused some controversy within the Watford board room, but Gino Pozzo took the matter into his own hands and made the decision to fire Xisco and hire a fellow Italian and lifelong friend of his while overlooking his staff and advisors.

Some believe Claudio Ranieri’s time at Watford somewhat tarnished his reputation in football as it now looks unlikely he will be offered a job at the top level partially because of his brief spell at Vicarage Road, and how disastrous it turned out while some may argue against that. However, we can say that Watford made another mistake, once again costing their season dearly.

Some believe that what occurred this season was deserved for Watford because how they operate simply isn’t sustainable and the ‘hire and fire’ way of things over time will catch up with you, which has exactly happened this season.

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different set of results, which unfortunately is equivalent to how Gino Pozzo has managed Watford since he acquired the club.

The following day after Watford announced the departure of Claudio Ranieri, there was a rapid response to replace him as they announced the well-experienced and previous England and Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson on a short-term deal.

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106 days after the catastrophic defeat to Norwich City, Watford had been officially relegated from the Premier League. Many Watford supporters had thought the damage was already done before the arrival of Hodgson and many fans referenced back to the night when Norwich beat Watford towards the end of January as the turning point which ultimately cost them massively, many think it would have been a ‘freakish miracle’ if Watford somehow managed to retain their Premier League status under the well-accomplished Roy Hodgson.

It would be naive not to mention Hodgson’s spell at Watford as it certainly wasn’t perfect. When the 74-year-old initially arrived, many of the Hornet fans did not see eye to eye with the appointment, which has regrettably come to pass. Hodgson had in no way a connection with the fans and on a few occasions, the Watford fans booed him and some of his substitutions, at one match as the full-time whistle blew Hodgson spent his time disagreeing with two Watford supporters above the player’s tunnel rather than apologising to the home support, which painted the picture of his time on the sidelines at Vicarage Road. It’s now being said that senior Watford officials were ‘surprising alarmed’ with the way he conducted himself as Watford manager on a few occasions.

To end that hopeless season on a high note, there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel as new manager Rob Edwards spoke admirably in his first interview to the Watford fans. His appointment raised a few eyebrows, and it will bring something unique to Vicarage Road. Rob mentioned many times throughout the interview about building a connection with the fans, which has been difficult for any manager to do so due to their brief spells at the club.

Edwards is only 39-years-old and he will become the fifth-youngest manager in the Championship next season, which shows the number of young managers getting opportunities in the Championship. Edwards has asked for patience from the Watford board, but also the fans will need to give him time to adapt to his new surroundings. Hopefully, this is the beginning of something new at Watford, but as of now, the Watford merry-go-round continues for another season.

The Author


Writer mainly covering Watford FC.

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