There was a collective scratching of heads from the football fraternity on Sunday as news of Nigel Pearson’s sacking at Watford began to filter through the usual channels. Pundits, managers and players alike, tried their best to wade through the swampy waters of bewilderment and exasperation as the gravity of Gino Pozzo’s decision sank in.
For the third time this season, Watford had unceremoniously shown their manager the door, only on this occasion, the timing and logic of such a move was truly farcical.
Pearson’s departure came with just two rounds of Premier League fixtures still to play. Yes, they had suffered a dire reversal at West Ham, their fourth defeat in six, but they were still out of the drop zone and had their destiny in their own hands.
By sacking Pearson and publicly displaying such internal panic, the owner’s surely risked emboldening their relegation rivals and driving a wedge through their playing staff. Not only that, but the decision to shove out a manager who had done such a good job in dire circumstances was truly baffling.
There is simply no denying that without Pearson, the Hornets would have been goners weeks ago. The club was marooned at foot of the table with just one win to their name and two managers already gunned down in early December. Picking up the rotted timbers of Javi Gracia and Quique Sanchez Flores’s reigns, Pearson led his side to seven wins in 20 matches and a points per game ratio of 1.25; the best of any manager in the Hertfordshire club’s Premier League history.
Huge wins against Liverpool, Manchester United and Wolves dragged his side up the table, reigniting hopes that they could survive. While their post-restart form has been poor, it must be pointed out that they have been left without influential forward Gerard Deulofeu whilst also grappling with Troy Deeney’s knee problems.
Any attack would be blunted without two key players either unavailable or fully fit, so this must surely be factored into any judgement of the ailing Vicarage Road outfit. And yet, it appears for Pozzo and his right-hand man Filippo Giraldi, such facts are to be swept aside as easily as one of their managerial appointments.
Ridiculous decision by #watfordfc to get rid of Nigel Pearson and Craig Shakespeare now. Brought spirit and belief back, some good results, revived hope of staying up. Madness.
— Henry Winter (@henrywinter) July 19, 2020
The pair were reportedly unhappy with their side’s slow start in matches since football resumed last month. The result and accompanying performance against West Ham was said to be the final straw. After Pearson was reported to have exchanged heated words with the owner and given their trigger-happy reputation of nine previous managerial dismissals in six years, it was obvious that the axe was going to fall once again with a dull and ominous thud.
For the Pozzo family and their appointed hierarchy at Watford, they are unlikely to see any faults at all with their rash decision. For them, survival is success. Ongoing access to their share of the top-flight TV bounty is clearly cherished above all else.
And yet, for Watford fans and supporters in general, such knee-jerk, illogical decisions are hard to stomach. While there is no getting away from the new manager bounce – equating to a 0.7 point per game improvement on average – it remains farcical to see owners so cynically gambling on the phenomenon to salvage a shoddy season.
Simply put, relying on the new manager bounce with just two games to go is a madman’s final throw of the dice. It is not a move to be applauded, rather, it is decision making that smacks of total desperation and rudderless panic.
If the season started when Watford appointed Nigel Pearson, they would be 10 points clear of the relegation zone, a point behind Leicester ?♂️ pic.twitter.com/9DedUuMlWU
— ESPN UK (@ESPNUK) July 20, 2020
Premier League and Football League chiefs alike, should be alarmed at such a flailing mess. While there have been promising signs of patience and persistence at struggling clubs this season, the fact that this insidious fear of relegation can still provoke such corrosive decision making is worrying.
Even if the Hornets can somehow cobble together something at Arsenal this weekend, and other results spare them, their survival will not have been forged from a shrewd managerial appointment or tactical tweak, but by mere fluke and pure chance.
Perhaps the most disappointing things for supporters of clubs in the same bracket as Watford is that the endemic fear of relegation is still such a corrosive element.
Yes, relegation bound Bournemouth and Norwich City have given no indications as yet that they will be parting company with their managers any time soon but that still leaves us with the likes of West Ham, Everton and of course Watford; all of who have endured proverbial car crash campaigns this term and duly took a sledgehammer to any semblance of the plans they had in place last summer.
Javi Garcia led Watford to a cup final and their best ever Premier League finish last season. His reward? The sack after four games into the new campaign after having dared to see his side’s form deteriorate. No time was given for a decent coach to find a solution. Instead, what we were left with was an owner’s desperate and undignified tussle to avoid the drop at all costs.
While the likes of Southampton and Brighton offer up hope that clubs can still operate in the precarious waters of the bottom half of the table and work calmly to their respective plans even when things are going wrong; it is clear from Watford’s erratic antics that financial fear of relegation stubbornly remains as a destructive force in the top flight.
Pearson may not be everyone’s cup of tea for sure, but he did at least represent a logical and clear path to salvation. His removal at such a late stage represents so much of what is currently wrong with Premier League owners and their desperation to cling to the wealth of English football’s top flight. This survival at any cost, short-term brinkmanship serves only to create illogical destruction, confusion and deep discontent in the ranks; none of which can be good for a football club in the long term.