Watford aren’t my club, but when I heard the news that Sean Dyche had been given the boot by the Hornets’ new Italian owners to make way for Gianfranco Zola, I found myself strangely furious on Dyche’s behalf. How dare they breeze into Vicarage Road and and with breathtaking arrogance treat a club legend so shoddily – especially one who had worked so diligently and in difficult circumstances to engineer an improbably lofty position in last season’s Championship table. That it took four days for the club to confirm officially that Dyche’s head had rolled was equally shoddy. The praise for his “honour and dignity“, when it eventually came, seemed as much a comment on the way he had received the news as anything – a pat on the back for not kicking up a fuss (though, of course, it’s possible he’s actually been gagged).
And what of his replacement? The apparent assumption that a big-name manager is required at the helm (nothing new, if you think of Sven-Goran Eriksson’s recent employment record) suggests a complete lack of comprehension of the division on the part of the owners. What’s more, history hangs heavy over the appointment – the club’s previous experiment with Italian stewardship a decade ago, with Gianluca Vialli, was an unmitigated disaster. It’s not as though Zola worked wonders during his stint with West Ham, either (even if it was his successor Avram Grant who took the Hammers down).
But, I wondered, was my indignation just a kneejerk reaction? Was I perhaps being unduly harsh on the Pozzos? After all, if they’re going to make substantial amounts of cash available, isn’t it their prerogative to decide who they want to spend it? Dyche wasn’t their appointment and, in that context, his dismissal assumes an air of depressing inevitability.
And what about the views of genuine Watford fans? Far from being angry, might they actually be enthused by the recent turn of events, excited at the new chapter and accepting of Dyche’s sacking as its necessary preface? I turned to my friend Jez for his thoughts…
It’s naïve to expect that football clubs act differently to any other business. We think they should because we invest a lifetime of faithful devotion, unlike their ephemeral staff. We dress them up and sprinkle on tradition and personality because we care.
Watford’s former owner, a local “businessman”, bought the club for £440,000. My mate Daz and I reckoned if we’d have both taken out another mortgage we could have picked it up. Unlike us, though, he was a bankrupt who kept changing his name every time he set up a new business. Once the Guardian‘s David Conn starts writing about your team, you know there’s trouble. We featured on his laptop a lot. There were strange goings-on, unforgivable public fall outs with Graham Taylor, hissy fits with fans followed by silence; the police were even called when a staff member refused to hand over the keys to the safe! It was like a nightmarish episode of Dream Team. Amazingly, though, the owner had started to deliver on promises. The pitch was re-laid, the pub over the road from the ground was reopened and we also had our best league finish for five years, although we continued to sell our best players and our managers moved on to Destination Clubs (© Brendan Rodgers).
The Pozzos (Italian “businessmen”) are talking a good game: investing in the youth academy, rebuilding the ground (four sides, anyone?), running the club as a not-for-profit social enterprise and entering into a partnership with their other teams, Granada and Udinese. Their long-term strategy has worked in Spain and Italy, where both sides were floundering but are now in the top flight. But at Watford they began by sacking Dyche, the man who with good grace, honesty and hardly any resources picked up the pieces and made our disparate group of players into a team, rather than up sticks with Malky Mackay and move to Cardiff. He stayed with us. Now he’s gone. If we didn’t have a manager, then I’d be chuffed to have Zola, but not under these circumstances. But as I said, for them it’s business. For us it’s more than that.
We are a community club; we promote youth players and enjoy them before we sell them on and watch them throughout their careers. I’m sure Alan Green wouldn’t understand, but sometimes football isn’t just about winning. It’s about pride, affection and emotion. It’s about liking your club. A couple of seasons ago we gave a professional contract to a lower-league left back. Rumour has it we’ll have a young Brazilian loanee in that position soon.
It’s not the Watford I know, and that may be no bad thing. I’d rather listen to Otis Redding on a tinny transistor radio than an X Factor performer singing the same song in surround sound. It’d be nice to be in the Premier League again, but not at any cost. I hope my club can retain some of its soul.
And if it does, then the Hornets’ potential is arguably there. Situated in a populous part of the country, Watford would need to win over those supporters seduced by the allure of north London pair Arsenal and Spurs, but the Pozzos have the requisite experience to make the long-term project work.
As for Dyche, he can consider himself extremely unfortunate to have been the fall guy and shouldn’t have to wait long for another management opportunity. Lanterne Rouge’s money is on a return to Chesterfield, a club he served with distinction as a player in the early to mid 1990s. May saw the Spireites relegated back to League 2 after a solitary campaign in the third tier, and current managerial incumbent John Sheridan will be under pressure to get off to a good start. If he doesn’t, we could be hearing that distinctive rasp back on The Football League Show sooner rather than later.