Marco Silva is an ambitious manager who saw Watford as the perfect stepping stone to a job with one of the Premier League’s top teams. But that same ambition tripped him up. His desire to replace Ronald Koeman as Everton manager, after just nine league games at Watford, changed his relationship with the club, the players and fans, in a way that never recovered.
When Everton first approached Silva in late October, Watford were fifth, had just beaten Arsenal and nearly taken a point at Stamford Bridge. They were already benefiting from Silva’s meticulous, detailed coaching and ambitious style of play. It felt as if Gino Pozzo had landed on the next big young managerial talent in English football.
But Silva wanted to take over at Goodison Park, with a pay rise on offer and a bigger transfer budget, and asked Watford to find an agreement with Everton. It was not until late November that Everton accepted this would not be possible, after Watford chief executive Scott Duxbury warned them off Silva in the strongest possible terms.
When the players realised Silva did not want to be there any more, it naturally affected their own focus and desire to stay at Vicarage Road. Since Everton gave up on Silva, Watford have played 11 league games and taken just five points. Clearly that was the hinge moment of their season. Even Watford’s statement released this morning said that the “catalyst” for their decision was Everton’s “unwarranted approach”, which destabilised their whole season.
When Silva was called in for a meeting at Watford on Sunday morning he was shocked to be told that he was being sacked because of recent bad results. But Duxbury and Gino Pozzo firmly believe that the collapse the winter is directly because of Silva’s Everton flirtation. They believe it sent the wrong message to the players, who were given an excuse to be distracted, and the squad could never recover their focus.
It had certainly been noticed in the boardroom that Watford, who started the season snatching games at the death, were now throwing them away at the end:1-0 up at Palace with two minutes left, they lost 2-1; 1-0 up against Swansea City with four minutes left, they lost 2-1. They believe it was a failure of game management which came from a lack of attention from players and staff.
Silva could point to the fact that he inherited a team that nearly went down last season and which is now 10th in the table. Yes, results have certainly tailed off recently but Silva’s public target at the start of the season was to keep them up. Watford’s highest league finish of the Pozzo era is 13th, under Quique Sanchez Flores. The last time they finished in the top half of the top flight was 1987.
Silva may also point to the fact that there have been plenty of injuries to key players. Nathaniel Chalobah started the season forcing his way into the England setup but when he fractured a kneecap Watford lost their midfield lynchpin. Will Hughes, another big summer signing, has struggled to get fit. With plenty of problems in defence, Silva has almost never got his strongest team on the pitch.
When Silva took the job in the summer he was looking forward to working in the Pozzo’s continental model, which was why he took the job in the first place. But in reality he was frustrated that he could not sign all of the players. When he arrived at Hull City last January, Silva could sign who he wanted: Evandro Goebel, Omar Elabdellaoui, Lazar Markovic and so forth. But when he arrived at Watford, where Filippo Giraldi is in charge of transfers, it was not so simple. The club signed Richarlison at Silva’s request. But there were plenty of Silva targets they could not get, like Benfica centre-back Jardel or Shakhtar left-back Ismaily.
Silva’s agitation about transfer targets caused friction with the Watford board, but not as much as his pursuit of the Everton job did. They expected he would push for a move again in the summer, and so with 14 games left this season and results heading downhill, they decided to sack him now. It was never in Watford’s plan to lose their manager mid-season and they were very reluctant to do it. But when the manager makes clear he does not want to be there anymore, something fundamental is lost, and cannot be put back.
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