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 Рan unusual thing. Both sides had to agree to continue the relationship. Each side would have had different motives for this break clause Рwhether 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 Рat 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 Рwhich 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 Рannoyed 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