The dust is starting to settle on perhaps the most accusative parting statement a Premier League club has ever produced; Watford implying Everton’s pursuit of Marco Silva eventually forced them to sack the Portuguese.
There are two sides to every story and it will be interesting to hear Silva’s after insinuations that his over-ambition saw standards slip at Vicarage Road, but if it’s true that a manager revered as the most promising in the Premier League when he left Hull City had his head turned after just 26 games in charge, the Pozzo family only really have themselves to blame.
After all, while the Pozzos’ returns on the pitch are difficult to argue with – solidifying Watford as a midtable force in the Premier League and overseeing their most consecutive campaigns in the top flight since the 1980s – they have turned the Hornets into something of a faceless stepping stone, lacking any real incentive to remain loyal excepting the weekly pay cheques.
That may seem a harsh evaluation of a club with its own proven model for success, but it’s hard to ignore facts; Watford haven’t played a single academy product in the Premier League this season while last summer saw 22 players either join or leave the club in the space of a single transfer window. There’s no identity, no continuity, no link to Watford’s history or between the players and the fans.
There are of course a few exceptions to the rule – the likes of Troy Deeney – but on the whole, Watford are less a football club and more a corporation that hires and fires employees with a particularly quick turnaround.
And that only rings truer with the managers. Javi Gracia is now the eighth manager to work under the Pozzos in five-and-a-half years, and none of those have lasted longer than Gianfranco Zola who oversaw just 66 games. Even the manager who took the Hornets to the Premier League, Slavisa Jokanovic, failed to earn a new contract with promotion and was replaced by Quique Sanchez Flores. He too would last just one year in the job, despite guiding Watford to a comfortably safe finish upon their return to the top flight.
Not that how Watford have treated previous managers justifies Silva losing focus because he was declined the chance to join Everton, if that was indeed the case. But it’s more a question of what culture that approach has created in Hertfordshire; one where the players, the coaches and the managers all know they won’t be there very long. It’s a constant revolving door, a stop-gap club that either brings about better personal opportunities or quickly moves you on if you fail to fulfil your purpose.
Even if you do, there’s a good chance you’ll be leaving anyway. Eventually, that reduces what should be the incredibly holistic experience of playing for a football club, especially one as family-oriented as Watford, to little more than a job to pay the bills. The shirt stops representing community, club and passion and becomes football’s equivalent of a McDonald’s uniform.
That has been evident during Watford’s every Premier League campaign thus far under the Pozzos; once the initial bounce of new players and a new manager begins to fade away and the target of Premier League survival comes within grabbing distance, performances and results quickly turn sour. Tellingly, Watford suffered 23 of their 37 Premier League defeats over the last two seasons after the turn of the year.
Silva’s apparent hopes of leaving Watford for Everton in November, despite joining the club just a matter of months prior, is a symptomatic reaction to that culture. Why shouldn’t he look to join a club offering a better salary, a greater challenge and bigger transfer budgets when his current employers have discarded their managers indiscriminate of success or failure? Why should there be any loyalty on Silva’s part to a club that churns through managers and players at will? Why did he owe it to Watford to rebuff the Toffees’ interest and stay at Vicarage Road? If anything, the quick management turnaround while pocketing Watford £8.5million seemed to fit perfectly into the club’s ruthless model.
Perhaps that’s why Watford eventually took such a tough line with Silva; in addition to leaving the Hornets just four points above the relegation zone after a blistering start and amid a run of eight defeats in eleven games, they needed to do something to stop the idea of the club being little more than a stepping stone, an intermission in the careers of players and coaches. Sacking Silva did, at the very least, give them some sense of control of the situation.
And yet, it remains a case of being treated by others how you treat them. As long as Watford remain a revolving door, ambitious managers like Silva will always feel justified in walking out either side of it. For all the success the Pozzos have brought to Vicarage Road, they’ve also made Watford something of an empty vessel. Managers and players fill it for a time, but never long enough to become truly connected with the club.