Gianfranco Zola has resigned as manager of Watford Football Club, after eighteen months in charge. In an open letter to supporters, Zola stated that he believed it would be best for Watford if someone else was given the chance to manage, but thanked the fans for his time at the club. His decision came after they lost a remarkable five consecutive home games, and extended their winless run to nine.
These poor results were surprising, considering how good the same team was last season. Between November and February, Watford went on an extremely good run of form and were a team many tipped to go up with Cardiff. They were narrowly beaten to second place by Hull City, and after a very dramatic play-off semi-final victory against Leicester, the Hornets lost the final to Crystal Palace in extra-time.
A high number of loan players were brought in. Watford’s owners, the Pozzo family, also owned Udinese and Granada. This meant that arranging loan deals were merely a formality and they could bring in a number of players from both clubs. Although some criticized this transfer policy, it proved successful. After signing many of last season’s loanees permanently this summer, the Hornets were tipped for promotion.
Zola’s side got off to the perfect start, with a 6-1 home win over Bournemouth in just their second match of the season. However in October, results began to drop as Watford fell further and further out of touch with the play-off places. Zola admitted defeat, and now the question is who will take his place? Let’s explore the contenders.
1. Roberto Di Matteo
Pros Di Matteo is Italian, which means he might have a good working relationship with Watford’s owners, and the players who had previously been at Udinese. He will have a few contacts from his days at Chelsea, which might help the club in the loan market. Watford’s defence has been a major problem, and di Matteo has proven he can organize a defence. He has experience of winning promotion with West Brom, plus of course guiding Chelsea to FA Cup and Champions League glory.
Cons He has never used Watford’s regular 3-5-2 formation, so his appointment may lead to a change in tactics which may take a while for players to adjust to. Still a relatively young manager, Di Matteo has been out of a job for over a year since Chelsea sacked him. With so many sackings now happening in the top two divisions, you might question the reasons why nobody else has appointed him.
Would he want the job? It would be more a case of Watford attracting di Matteo, than vice versa. Watford are currently eight points off the play-off places, meaning it would take a significant run of wins for them to have chance of getting into the Premier League. However, after a long absence the Italian might be eager to take any opportunity to get back into management.
Verdict This would be a very good appointment for Watford. The big question: would di Matteo want to move from being Champions League winner, to midtable in the Championship? 6/10.
2. Steve Clarke
Pros Scottish managers – they’re normally quite good, aren’t they? Clarke has experience at the top level, much like di Matteo. Assistant manager to Jose Mourinho for four years at Chelsea, where he played a part in the team’s strong defensive record. He has also been an assistant at Newcastle, West Ham and Liverpool. Clarke guided West Brom to an impressive eighth place finish last season and has a wealth of experience in the Premier League.
Cons Would he continue Watford’s free-flowing, attacking style of play? He set his West Brom team up very rigidly. Two holding midfielders, the fullbacks staying deep, and even the wingers encouraged to track back at times. This is contrary to what most Watford players are used to, because they played with a very flexible, creative approach under Zola. Although a tactical shift might see them tighten up at the back, they are unlikely to score enough goals and their best exotic, attacking players may want to leave.
Would he want the job? Clarke’s defensive nous has made him a useful coach in the Premier League. Therefore, he might prefer a higher-paid job in the top flight as an assistant, rather than a move down to the Championship.
Verdict A complete mismatch. 2/10.
3. Francesco Guidolin
Pros Guidolin is the current manager of Udinese, and has been at the club since 2010. Therefore, he is the most likely to form a strong working relationship with the Watford squad, eleven of which previously played for Udinese’s B side. Guidolin already knows the Pozzo family which will help communication in the boardroom, and plays a 3-5-2 system at his current club, so tactically he would be a good fit. The 58-year-old does not lack experience, with a management career so far of twenty five years, and having taken charge of fourteen different clubs.
Cons However, each of those clubs were Italian and this would be the first time Guidolin would move outside Italy, in his football career. It would take a big settling in period, while Watford fans might not be particularly happy about the appointment, because most of them might not have heard of him. The pressure would be on Guidolin for good early results.
Would he want the job? Udinese are currently 15th in Serie A, after spending two seasons in the Europa League. The Pozzo family owning both Udinese and Watford means, bizarrely, that the people who would decide to sack Guidolin as Udinese manager, would be the same people who appoint him at Watford. It is unlikely that the Italian would choose to move out of his home country, where he seems to be settled. However, if he did want the job, it could be easy for him to engineer a move.
Verdict Although his contact with Watford’s owners and current playing staff would benefit him, even if he leaves Udinese, he may choose to remain in Italy. 5/10.
4. Paolo Di Canio
Pros Another Italian, which brings the same advantages as Di Matteo and Guidolin. He motivated his Swindon side to gain promotion as Champions from League Two in 2012, and fired the Sunderland team to survival last season.
Cons He is a self-proclaimed fascist, and this political stance means that any club who appoints Di Canio is taking a risk. At Sunderland, he signed fourteen players and appointed a whole new backroom team in his first summer. If he did something similar at Watford, the club would need to give him a lot of financial backing towards getting into the Premier League, and that is by no means likely.
Would he want the job? If Watford did offer him the manager’s job, Di Canio would be likely to take it. There are six Italians already in the squad and he may not get a chance in the Premier League next, after his sacking at Sunderland.
Verdict Appointing Di Canio could be too much of a risk for Watford. 3/10.
5. Ian Holloway
Pros He knows how to win promotion as a manager, having taken Blackpool and Crystal Palace up in the last three years. At the age of fifty, he is at the peak for a manager, with a good balance of experience and energy to motivate a team.
Cons He does not seem to be particularly keen on foreign players. Twenty-two of the twenty-nine man squad which won promotion under him at Blackpool were British, as were twenty-seven of the thirty-three players who went up with Crystal Palace. Seeing as Watford have sixteen players from abroad, the appointment of Holloway may lead to a large changeover of playing staff.
Would he want the job? Probably not. Last season, it was Holloway who openly criticized Watford for their policy of loaning a number of players from Udinese and Granada. He would have to be prepared for a fractious relationship with the fans, at least initially.
Verdict Would he want to go? No. Would the board want him? No. It is difficult to see why Holloway would be appointed. 2/10.
6. Martin Jol
Pros He has managed in the Premier League with Tottenham and Fulham, as well as having been at the top level with Ajax. His level of experience and contacts makes him a good proposition for any Championship club.
Cons Lacks a commanding presence on the touchline. He failed to see the dangers of having such an old squad at Fulham, as well as too many luxury attacking players.
Would he want the job? Having managed at Tottenham and Fulham, he will be more familiar with the areas outside north-west London, making the settling in process relatively easy. He might be prepared to take a job outside the top flight.
Verdict This could be a good appointment from both sides. After struggling at Fulham, Jol may have to take a step down before getting back into the Premier League, while Watford could benefit from his top level experience. 7/10
7. Malky Mackay
Pros He had played and managed at Watford for a combined total of six years, so he knows the club and is well regarded by the fans. In his second management job, he guided Cardiff to the Premier League as champions.
Cons Having been a defender as a player, he is likely to place emphasis on defensive organisation and being hard to beat, as he has done to an extent with Cardiff. As with Steve Clarke, this ideology may not suit Watford’s current playing staff.
Would he want the job? The biggest factor here is that he is still Cardiff City manager. However, he is having to endure a strained relationship with the club’s owner, Vincent Tan. Although it is difficult to imagine Mackay lasting long at Cardiff with the current board, his dismissal would need to happen very quickly, before the Watford board appoint someone else.
Verdict While some Watford fans might want to see Mackay back, the Pozzo family are in charge of the club and have no affinity with him. Watford need to make an appointment quickly and if Mackay does leave Cardiff in the near future, it is unlikely that it will be before the Watford board have brought in somebody else. 2/10.
Out of those, the best choice for Watford would be Roberto Di Matteo. His ability to speak Italian would come in useful with the Hornets squad, and his remarkable success with Chelsea makes him a great option. However, it is just a question of whether Di Matteo would be prepared to move to a second tier club. Watford’s back-up target should be Martin Jol. He has experience of managing at the top level, and his difficult time at Fulham nudges him in the direction of a Championship club, rather than another chance in the top flight. Due to the fact that Watford’s owners are already working with him, it would be very easy for them to be in dialogue with Francesco Guidolin about the position, although his career history suggests he may prefer to remain in Italy. Steve Clarke and Ian Holloway have managerial philosophies which do not fit the players they would have at their disposal. Clarke encourages defensive rigidity while Holloway prefers an English-based squad, meaning too much of the team would need to change under either of those managers. The chance of Mackay becoming available is minimal, while Paolo Di Canio’s controversial political beliefs makes him a risky choice.
Whoever the next Watford manager is, it will be a difficult job. They would need to build up a strong run of results early, with the Hornets eight points away from the play-off places.