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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Watford spot on with appointment of Javi Gracia as manager of Premier League club

Players tend to like him and his methodical approach, and while he is in charge there is strict order in the team. His teams are also able to switch tactics during matches if required

Javi Gracia, who brought plenty of success to Malaga, is well respected as a manager. Christof Koepsel / Getty Images
Javi Gracia, who brought plenty of success to Malaga, is well respected as a manager. Christof Koepsel / Getty Images

The respect with which new Watford manager Javi Gracia is held was demonstrated only two weeks ago when he was linked with the Espanyol job.

Quique Sanchez Flores, himself a former Watford manager, was expected to leave Espanyol and return to the Premier League with Stoke City. He was Stoke’s first choice, he had met the club and would have enjoyed a big pay increase.

Espanyol wanted him to stay, but they also had Gracia lined up at the head of his possible replacements if he did not – and Espanyol fans welcomed that idea. He also was not desperate for the Espanyol job because he had other offers himself.

As it transpired, Sanchez Flores preferred the life in Barcelona to Stoke-on-Trent and Gracia accepted the Watford job after Marco Silva was dismissed.

Silva’s stock had sunk quickly at Watford.

On November 19 the Portuguese, who had done well at Hull City despite being unable to keep them in the Premier League, took to the media room after his team had given a good account of themselves to defeat West Ham United 2-0.

The first question from a journalist was direct: "Are you leaving for Everton?"

Even though Silva had only been in charge for 12 games, he had enjoyed a positive start – enough to attract a far bigger club. Everyone in the room expected him to leave. Figures were mentioned among journalists, too, plus a three-year contract.

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Some Watford players even thought he was on his way, but the club held firm. They would not let their contracted manager depart, but their results have suffered badly since, with seven defeats in their last nine league games.

Watford were hoping for a top-eight finish this season, and they are still in a highly creditable 10th and in the FA Cup.

Silva got them into that position, but Watford – a successful club who have had eight managers since dismissing Sean Dyche in 2012 – blamed Everton’s “unwanted approach” which “has seen a significant deterioration in both focus and results to the point where the long-term future of Watford FC has been jeopardised".

Gracia, 47, who was linked with Sevilla at the start of the season, will take over immediately.

He is popular in Spain chiefly because of the job he did for Malaga who had their budgets slashed after reaching the quarter-finals of the Uefa Champions League in 2013.

That budget stood at €150 million (Dh675m) in 2012, but only €40m when Gracia took charge two years later, with most of the stars from Ruud van Nistelrooy to Santi Cazorla, Isco to Nacho Monreal, long gone.

Watford dismissed Marco Silva for allegedly losing his focus after being pursued by Everton. Nigel Roddis / Getty Images
Watford dismissed Marco Silva for allegedly losing his focus after being pursued by Everton. Nigel Roddis / Getty Images

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Gracia led Malaga to two successive top-10 finishes. Not only that, they did it by playing attractive football. The former midfielder who had played 430 mostly Primera Liga games for clubs including Real Sociedad and Villarreal, worked his players to create an indomitable spirit.

Players like him and his methodical approach. He is similar to Marcelino at Villarreal, with strict order in the team, tight banks of players, wingers and a high defence. His teams are able to switch tactics during matches if required.

Malaga under Gracia troubled even the best teams and beat treble winners-elect Barcelona away. They also held Atletico and Real Madrid.

He trained them hard, while his staff analysed their opponents even harder while developing and using young players in the first team. He did that at a club where change and uncertainty was whirling around him.

Gracia left for a lucrative contract at Rubin Kazan in 2016, a job he conceded was complicated. He lasted one season and his team finished ninth.

He has since been learning English and signed an 18-month contract which, judging by the number of managerial changes at Watford, he will do well to see out.

He certainly has the talent.