Four months after his appointment as head coach at Watford, Vladimir Ivic has been sacked. “Watford FC confirms the departure of Head Coach Vladimir Ivic with immediate effect” read the tweet, accompanied by a now-infamous photo of the corner flag. Ivic leaves the club fifth in the championship, with 34 points from 20 games. Whilst on paper Ivic was doing a fine job, behind the scenes things had soured.
Watford were trailing 2-0 to Huddersfield in the 77th minute when the substitutes board went up. Off came defenders Ben Wilmot and Jeremy Ngakia, and on came defenders Marc Navarro and Adam Masina. Striker Troy Deeney would remain an unused substitute. After the match, Ivic told the press he didn’t bring Deeney on because of a disciplinary issue. Deeney later told talkSPORT this was the first he had heard of any such issue.
? “I’d been disciplined for something but he didn’t want to talk about it.”
?♂️ “The only thing is I didn’t stop a massage when he asked to see me.”
Troy Deeney takes us through us what happened between him and Vladimir Ivic at #WatfordFC ? pic.twitter.com/VKQkLLh9fa
— talkSPORT (@talkSPORT) December 21, 2020
In the hours following the match, rumours that Vladimir Ivic would be sacked began to gain pace. It is understood that the hierarchy at the club were stunned to learn that Ivic was not planning to change the formation at half-time after a dismal first half at the John Smiths Stadium. Ivic’ tactics throughout the game proved to be the final straw, and its thought that the decision to relieve him of his duties had been made before the final whistle was blown.
There has been a swirl of negativity around Watford’s performances so far this season. The squad is full of potent attacking talents such as Ismaila Sarr, Ken Sema, Troy Deeney, Andre Gray, Domingos Quina, and Joao Pedro. Despite this, Ivic has set the team up in an extremely defensive shape, restricting the forwards and insisting his team defend first. This method is known to have annoyed owner Gino Pozzo and Chairman Scott Duxbury, who believe they have assembled a squad to play on the front foot. Despite their league position, it’s fair to say Watford have barely got going this season. Fans have railed against the style of play, and seemingly so have the players.
Reports in The Athletic suggest that the squad was disillusioned with Ivic’s overly strict regime, which involved long and intense training sessions, and a total ban on mobile phones at the training ground. Ivic was bought in to pick up the pieces of relegation, and build a unified squad ready to bounce back to the Premier League. It seems the Serbians hard demeanour and authoritarian approach has had the opposite effect.
Whilst Ivic hasn’t helped himself, there are indicators that some of the problems lie within the dressing room. Core members of the squad such as Troy Deeney, Etienne Capoue, Tom Cleverly and Craig Cathcart will shortly begin working under their sixth manager in five years. Marco Silva, Javi Gracia, Quique Sanchez Flores, Nigel Pearson, and Vladimir Ivic have all failed to get a tune out of what on paper is a talented squad. There is a lot of speculation amongst fans that until the problem players are routed out and sold, the cycle of head coaches will continue.
The club has wasted no time in appointing a new head coach. Xisco Munoz has been drafted in until the end of the season. The former Valencia winger, 40, has managed just 11 games in his career and is said to favour an attacking brand of football. If he were to gain promotion with Watford, he would need to study for a UEFA Pro Licence before he could take charge in the Premier League. The new man will have just two days with his players before the Boxing Day clash with league leaders Norwich City. The appointment has been met with widespread scepticism by Watford fans, however, the consensus is the football can’t get much worse.
Watford, once again, begin a new era under a new head coach. Whilst you won’t find many hornets fans who think that Vladimir Ivic shouldn’t have been sacked, you will find even fewer that think he should have been appointed in the first place. Since taking over in 2012, the Pozzo’s have transformed Watford FC. They have refurbished the stadium and the training facilities, taken the club to an FA Cup final and spent five seasons in the top-flight. They have undoubtedly built up a lot of credit with the fans. Now, after 18 months of discontent, that credit is running critically low.