The truth about football managers

The #watfordfc owner Gino Pozzo’s approach to hiring managers is correct.

Here’s why.

Most football managers are rubbish. Look at how many get fired every season. Look at how few win their clubs anything. The percentage who have long careers delivering sustained success is miniscule.

Can you predict if a given manager is going to bring success? Not easily. But you can be pretty sure how they’ll turn out in the end. Managers who start out decent usually end up rubbish, and rubbish managers who have a hot streak soon go back to being rubbish.

Gino Pozzo knows this.

That’s why he treats his managers the way he does. He gives them a chance to show him they’re not rubbish. If they’re rubbish, or as soon as they turn rubbish, he gets shot. He gives a chance to the next one.

Gino is looking for the needle in the haystack: the manager who delivers success.

Of course, the very best managers are transformational for a club. Graham Taylor transformed ours. Ferguson and Wenger transformed theirs (for a while). But this isn’t what Gino Pozzo is looking for.

He’s got his model of how to run a football club using a recruitment system and a trading strategy, so he only needs a manager to get the first team winning its way to survival in the most lucrative league in football.

In the summer, Scott Duxbury pitched Gino an alternative strategy for competing in the Premier League at a lower entry-cost. The idea was to choose a manager for the long term and build a team around him. Gino was tempted. But of course the strategy was flawed. Simply because it was dependent on having a manager for the long term. As we know from years of observation, managers are rubbish. It was a completely wrong-headed strategy.

Gino gave Duxbury’s strategy a chance, though. Then, when it wasn’t working because the manager was (of course) rubbish, he switched back to his old one. It was the sensible thing. The correct thing.

So let’s see if the new #watfordfc manager can get the first team winning its way to survival in the most lucrative league in football. He’ll be rubbish, sooner or later. So don’t make the mistake of getting emotionally attached to him. There’ll be another one along in a minute.


I 💛 Bournemouth?

Unpopular opinion coming up…

Bournemouth are my kind of football club.

A young English manager arrives at a club with a history of mediocrity. With the help of a wealthy owner, he takes them to the top flight where he plays entertaining attacking football and improves players who were with him in the lower divisions. He establishes his club in the top flight despite a small stadium with no real potential to expand.

When Graham Taylor did this for Watford from 1977 to 1987, it was the best thing ever. No Watford fan would deny that.

So – just because we’ve been there and done that – it would be churlish not to acknowledge what a brilliant thing has happened at Bournemouth.

This isn’t to say I like them. When I see Eddie Howe’s cherubic demeanour I see a mask that hides pure evil. The evil is coaching his players to fake and cheat for advantage. It has been working for years – and it winds me up.

But this isn’t much different from Graham Taylor being accused of playing “long ball” football – which worked and wound other fans up. It exploited what brings success in football just as Bournemouth’s faking and cheating does.

Thirty years on, I still feel the urge to defend GT’s approach, and I’m sure Bournemouth fans will do the same for Howe’s approach forever. Same thing. Fair enough.

Yesterday, I went to the game at the Vitality Stadium – the first time I’d been to Boscombe since 1995. On arrival, I wanted to deride the club for being tiny – for the dissonance of Premier League football being played on the edge of a park in a sleepy seaside suburb. It felt ridiculous. Laughable.

But then I stopped to compare. What happened 30 years ago under Elton and GT in a dull and declining town was similarly ridiculous. But it wasn’t laughable to me. For me, it really was the best thing ever.

And the dissonance of a sleepy suburb sustainably hosting the high-profile hype of the Premier League – when cities like Leeds, Sunderland, Derby, and Nottingham fail – struck me as the kind of underdog insolence that, instinctively, I love.

So I get it now. I don’t like Bournemouth at all but, in truth, they’re my kind of club. They’re the kind of club I have loved supporting the whole of my life. They’re us, 35 years ago.

But I can’t allow myself to finish with such charitable thoughts. They’re Bournemouth. They’ve got Eddie Howe.

So let’s not say they’re us, 35 years ago. Let’s say we’re 35 years ahead of Bournemouth.




Watford in 2017/18 — an assessment


Watching Watford in the Premier League each year is like watching a rubbish GIF. Here’s Pereyra beating his man to win a free-kick on the edge of the box — and here’s Holebas trotting up to hoof it into the wall. Starts out great, ends up crap. Over and over.

It’s inevitable. When the clocks go back, the players pass back. And back. And back and back. When autumn changes to winter, it’s like they all suffer Seasonal Affective Disorder — though S.A.D doesn’t quite capture it. It’s bloody M.I.S.E.R.A.B.L.E.

As soon as winter arrives, the team sleepwalks through games. Maybe they’re hibernating.

It’d definitely explain why Troy Deeney builds up so much body fat each summer.

The multi-lingual squad seems to communicate via body language. When Etienne Capoue dangles a lazy leg, he’s saying to his mates: ‘Look at me, lads, I just don’t care’. Daryl Janmaat replies by jogging back after his winger. He’s saying: ‘Me too, mate. CBA. Can’t be arsed.’

Whatever happened to Watford players giving a toss?

As a fan, I go way all the way back to Barry Endean. Barry cared. In January 1971, Watford were going out of the FA Cup at Oxford. Barry wasn’t happy. In his own words in the Watford Observer: “There were only a couple of minutes left. The crowd was irritating me. I pulled down my shorts. I mean… we were almost out of the Cup. I was near to tears.”

Barry Endean cared so much that he pulled down his shorts. Yanked them down. He had to do it. We were going out of the cup.

Would any of the 2017/18 squad care that much? Would they pull down their shorts if we were going out of the cup?

After the season ended, I went to ask them. And here’s what I found. This is the only post-season assessment that matters. It’s… 





“Drop my shorts? Jog on,” Tom tells me. But he’s the one jogging — home from his holiday job at the library. He enjoys moving the books around. Quietly, efficiently. No-one ever notices him.

He’s jogging at a nice steady pace. Not too fast, not too slow. Easy for me to keep up with — as every Premier League midfielder keeps finding.

“I’m a family man,” he says. “My young kids wouldn’t want to see me drop my shorts.”

I’d ask his kids if this is true, but Tom’s pace means they’re miles ahead of us.


Andre Gray


“Drop me shorts? Are you ‘avin’ a laugh?” Andre asks. He’s busy getting another tattoo done.

“Take me shirt off, no problem. Show off me tats of Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King — symbolisin’ the struggle.”

He’s got tattoos over every inch of his back, chest and arms. But none of them seem to depict his OWN struggle — to control the ball when it’s passed to him.

“Nah,” he says, “not me shorts.”

He sounds certain. But his eyes betray a lack of confidence. Like, if he tried to pull down his shorts, he’d miss and pull down his pants as well — revealing buttocks with as little ink as his goalscoring record for Watford.

Andre Gray won’t dare TRY pulling down his shorts.




“Remember down at Southampton, Jose, when we were going out of the cup,” I ask him. “Why didn’t you drop your shorts to show how much you cared?”

“You and me. Now. Let’s sort it out,” he says. “Right here.”

The look in his eye makes me think it’s MY shorts that are going to get pulled down.

Luckily, Chris Kabasele holds him back.


success 2


I meet Isaac at a swish Hertfordshire hotel. “Would you ever drop your shorts?” I ask him.

“I’d need a couple of bottles of Baileys first,” he says.

He looks a bit embarrassed. He says: “Probably wouldn’t go as planned, either.”




“Dropping shorts would ruin image,” Sebastian says, sipping a skinny macchiato in his local Hampstead artisan coffee roastery.

Seb shows me a selection of soft-focus glamour photos from his latest modelling shoot. “Lederhosen always on”, he points out. “Is important leave much to imagination.”

Which neatly sums up Watford’s approach to football in the second half of every season.




I meet the lad in London. He nods and says: “I very happy drop shorts”.

I smile. It looks like I’ve finally found someone who cares as much about the team as Barry Endean did.

Then he explains why he’d happily drop his shorts.

“September, I take off shirt. Since November, no goal. I so sad. How you say — frustrated. When I score again I take off shirt AND shorts AND socks.”

I imagine him whirling his entire kit around his head as he runs out of the stadium, down the road, all the way to Chelsea to sign a contract there. I stop smiling.



It’s no surprise. Watford players don’t care the way they did in the days when everyone wore a hat.

(Even the ball wore a hat according to this photo of the great Barry Endean.)


Next season, I want to see players showing they really do care.

If we’re losing, I want to see the pitch absolutely bloody LITTERED with shorts.

(Red OR black, this is no time to argue.)

Thank you for reading.




@jimmy armchair


We Are Where We Are

Usually, I hate the phrase ‘we are where we are’. It sounds defeatist.

But for Watford fans at the moment, it’s a useful reminder.


In the Premier League.

One of the teams that won’t finish in the top six.

One of the teams that, each season, could do badly and go down. (West Ham, Stoke, Swansea and Leicester have all been in the bottom four this season.)

One of the teams whose fans are frustrated at having to scrap for survival with no real hope of glory. (There are many disgruntled fans at Stoke, West Brom, Southampton…)


Where a lot of Watford fans want us to be…

…a team that’s assured of safety and plays attractive football. (This kind of team doesn’t exist in the Premier League.)

…in the Championship. (Perhaps some fans are planning to get out the buckets again to buy the club when Gino doesn’t want it.)


This year, we’ve kept ourselves among the clubs that seek to retain their status each year – with no realistic hope of more. Mostly, it hasn’t been fun to watch.

Why? Because, as fans, we do still hope for more – even when there isn’t any more to be had.

We hope to win more. We hope to play better football. We hope to feel better about our team.

Good luck with that. We are where we are. “It’s the hope that kills you.”

Blaming the head coach for our unrealistic hopes is crazy. The problem is all down to the structure of English football. (It’s designed to help the big teams stay big. As for the rest – who cares?)

If fans want positive change, it won’t come by getting rid of a head coach on whom the fans have focused all their frustrations. (As is happening at Stoke, West Brom, Southampton…)

What needs to change is the Premier League.

Otherwise, we’ll never enjoy where we are.




A mishmash of emotions

A mishmash of emotions

Yesterday I discovered that I’m in the new ‘History Of Watford Football Club In One Image’. I’m sitting on the left-hand side of the massive illustration – by the corner flag. I’m sandwiched by David Holdsworth (1991-3 shirt) and Rod Thomas (1988/9).

The point isn’t that it’s me, Jimmy Armchair. (I’m just a fictional mouthpiece for a fan with occasional observations.)

The point is what I represent in this image.

I represent you. The fan. In Watford’s history.

That’s you sitting there. (Though you’re probably not as handsome as me.)

Why’s that important? Because, over 135 years, Watford would have been nothing without its fans.

The banners behind me, and at the top of the image, illustrate the same point. The club and its community have travelled together through all the fantastic moments depicted.

The banners, especially, prove another point. Fans contribute to the spectacle. (The 1881 took this to a new level last year.) A football match simply wouldn’t be the same if the fans weren’t there.

But the idea that I am you in Alex Bennett’s incredible work shows what a wonderful creation it really is. When you study the image and recognise the hundreds of references, they’re actually your references. Your memories. It’s a history of you as a Watford fan.

A history of you in one image.

It’s a brilliant thing.

Check it out – and buy a copy – here.

And if you feel moved to do so, follow Alex Bennett on Twitter @footymishmash and thank him for what he’s done for us.

Thank you, Alex.





Who’s to blame?

The QSF debate is over. He will leave.

In my mind I have an image of thousands of prams sitting in a sea of discarded toys. You may feel insulted by that image, but rest assured two of those prams are mine. One pram for the times I felt pro-Quique; one for the times I felt anti-Quique. I found myself leaping from one pram to the other, hour by hour. The sea of toys rose above the height of the wheels.

The arguments on both sides are well-known. If, after a week or two, they caused you to lose the will to live – as they did me – you’d better skip the next two paragraphs. Close your eyes and I’ll see you on the other side.

Some people blamed the coach himself. Too cautious, they said. Poor team selections, poor substitutions, poor tactics. Dull football.

Others blamed the owners and fans for changing their expectations. Quique had one job and he did it, they said. It’s a results business and no-one had any complaints about the final league table. It’ll be one of the sixth best league placings in the club’s entire history.

That’s it. You can open your eyes again now. The nightmare is over. Take a few slow, deep breaths.

And now think about the deeper reasons behind QSF’s departure.

One reason was the contract arrangement. When Quique arrived, he and the club agreed they would review after a year – an unusual thing. Both sides had to agree to continue the relationship. Each side would have had different motives for this break clause – whether psychological, professional or business motives. But the obvious truth is that people who agree break clauses are people who are likely to use break clauses.

The other thing about break clauses is that they break your focus. They make you think about how happy you are. In most areas of life, this analysis tends to lead to dissatisfaction. In football in particular, it almost always does. The nature of football – its point, its reason – is to want to be happier. (Unless you’re Leicester.)

But the further deeper reason behind this is the intensity of many people’s desire to be happier. Throughout football history, teams have had seasons where – like us in 2015/16 -they’ve never flirted with relegation, done well at times, and ended the season in anti-climax. Since the beginning of football, in leagues of 20 or 24 teams, this kind of season played out thousands of times. Then, in 1992, things changed.

Sky. Money. Hype. Shrieking commentators. The £170m match. Fans crying in their seats. The race for fourth place. Clickbait. Forums. Twitter.

A spiralling vortex of high stakes that finds new ways to suck you in and rob you of the perspective you dimly remember having when you were younger.

So who’s to blame for the upset over QSF’s departure?

Not Quique, not the club. Not you, not me.

As with many other things in British life, I blame a wizened old Australian media tycoon.

At the end of all of this, though, I hope QSF finds another club that makes him happy. I hope our owners find a coach that makes them happy. I hope we fans find happiness supporting our club.

Fat chance, of course – thanks to Murdoch.

But at least the hope makes me happy for now.









Another open letter to Gino Pozzo

Dear Mr Pozzo
Thank you for keeping Watford in the Premier League. I’m writing to counsel you ahead of your meeting with Quique Sanchez Flores – at which you’ll decide whether to activate the break-clause in his contract at the end of the season.
It’s important to remember that, at the start of the season, the club had a single objective. We wanted to avoid relegation. Nothing else. Yes, you may have had other objectives from the point of view of planning your business in the long term, but this was the only objective that mattered to fans like me. I wrote an open letter to you back in August telling you what your strategy should be for achieving the objective. You didn’t dispute what I said – which was a clear acceptance of the primacy of my views.
And so, as the season started, I welcomed the appointment of a Europa League winning manager. I applauded the flood of new signings that broke the previous transfer record. And I was delighted when, just before Christmas, after we beat Liverpool, we were a single point off a Champions League place.
But this is where you completely lost the plot.
On Christmas Day, I changed my objective. We were already as good as safe. Now I wanted to see expansive, exciting, adventurous football, spilling over with goals for my delight.
But you gave me Southampton away.
This was the first poor performance of the season. It was totally unacceptable.
You let us down. What was required at this point was a knee-jerk reaction to meet my new expectations. You still had half of January left to completely replace the squad with players who could produce the kind of football I now wanted to see. But you didn’t act. Myopically, you hadn’t lined up a completely different kind of player for the January transfer window. This was a dereliction of duty.
And now look at the state we’re in. We’re playing exactly the same kind of football that got us to a point below the Champions League places.
Not good enough.
Yes, we won 3-2 on Saturday after being 1-2 down on 90 minutes. But it wasn’t pretty. What kind of a mug do you take me for? This will not do.
Over the last two weeks, fans have been fiercely debating whether or not the head coach should be let go. The debate is an embarrassment to the club. You have handled things terribly. It’s as clear as day what you should have done to prevent this destabilisation of the club. You should have sacked Quique Sanchez Flores on Christmas Day, the moment my expectations changed.
I trust you will rectify the situation immediately. I shall write again to let you know my new expectations when I get back from my summer holidays in early August.
Kind regards,
Jimmy Armchair.

Nobody knows anything

Nobody knows anything…. Not one person in the entire field knows for a certainty what’s going to work. Every time out it’s a guess and, if you’re lucky, an educated one.“*

Yesterday was the perfect example that this is true of football.

For 89 minutes I was spitting feathers at our lack of adventure, invention, and movement against the worst team in the division. As the 90th minute arrived, I knew we’d failed for very obvious reasons.

Then we won.

I hadn’t known anything.

We all fall into the trap. We see pundits mouthing off on the telly and in the papers. We see fans mouthing off on social media. All of this suggests somebody knows something.

But nobody does. Nobody knows anything.

More proof? One word. Leicester.

Yet we all think we know. ‘Quique should stay.’ ‘Quique should go.’

Do the Pozzo family know? Of course not. Nobody knows anything. But they’ve got a Human Resources decision to make as Quique’s contract approaches its break-clause.

Quique had one job to do: keep us in the Premier League. He’ll earn a huge bonus. Then he’ll be let go because his bosses doubt his future performance. Only in the hyper-hyped world of modern football would this happen – a field where (not sure if I’ve mentioned this) nobody knows anything.

Here’s something I do know, though.

I’ve been a Watford fan forever. I will be forever. So when my team comes back from 1-2 down on 89 minutes and wins 3-2, it ought to be a great moment. But yesterday I didn’t enjoy those five minutes for what they were.

I should have enjoyed them nearly as much as Troy.

But there I was – annoyed about the previous lack of adventure, invention and movement. Thinking I knew something.

It ruined the moment.

Anyone remember the 4-3 win over Bolton in 1993 when we were 0-3 down with 20 minutes left? Me, I was delirious at the final whistle. In those days, without social media, I didn’t feel I had to have an answer for how crap Watford had been for 70 minutes. I could enjoy the turnaround for what it was. (Magnificent.)

The truth is, football is at its very best when it reminds you that no-one knows anything.

And sometimes, like yesterday, thinking you know something can get in the way.

But, hey, what do I know?



* William Goldman, Adventures in the Screen Trade




The road beyond Wembley



A few words before Sunday’s FA Cup semi-final. To help us get focused.

Sunday isn’t about a big day out.

It isn’t about being at Wembley.

It isn’t about avenging Palace for the 2012/3 play-off final defeat.

Here’s what Sunday’s about.

Sunday is the first of two games that could make our club winners of the FA Cup.

Our club. Winners of the FA Cup.

That’s what this is about.

Winning the FA Cup.

Stop for a moment and imagine it. Winning the FA Cup.

Winning the FA bloody Cup.

No-one, down the years, will talk about the year we comfortably avoided relegation.

But winning the FA Cup will write Watford into football history.


So there’s only one thing about Sunday that matters.

Sunday is a means to an end. There’s a road beyond Wembley.

Sunday is about winning the FA Cup on May 21st 2016.




My Official Programme Debut


(This piece was published in ‘The Hornet’, March 5th 2016, v Leicester City)


I’m not comfortable with what I’m about to write. But it’s true. So here goes.

If Watford lose today, I won’t be too upset.

This is unusual for me. Normally, whenever I get home after a Watford defeat, my loving and sensitive wife leaves out the key to the bedroom door so I can go straight upstairs and lock myself in for a few hours.

I certainly didn’t feel this way the last time we played Leicester at home. I can still picture Manuel Almunia thudding his clearance straight into Chris Wood’s face for Leicester’s first goal in their 3-0 win. I can still picture the ever-charming Anthony Knockaert celebrating in front of the Rookery. My loving and sensitive wife had to sleep on the sofa for the next two nights before I felt ready to unlock the bedroom door. I thought I’d hate Leicester forever.

This time, though, things are different.

How? Because it looks like we’re going to make it to a second season in the Premier League with games to spare. I’m both ecstatic and relaxed. With survival almost certainly done and dusted, I can start caring about other matters. And something I care very strongly about is that, this season, a team outside the Big Four could win the Premier League title for the first time in twenty years. It would be brilliant for the game. Even better, it would allow fans of clubs like ours to believe we can actually win something too.

That’s why – if it means Leicester go on to win the Premier League – I won’t mind if we lose today. Leicester have done superbly this season. They’ll deserve the title.

Necessarily, though, there’s a caveat.

If, somehow, Leicester have re-signed Anthony Knockaert this week, none of the above applies.