Watford take leap of faith that could bring supporters back onside

Date published: Thursday 12th May 2022 9:41 - Nathan Spafford

New Watford manager Rob Edwards

What Watford say and Watford do can often be two extreme ends of a well-meaning line, but the appointment of Rob Edwards could be a turning point at Vicarage Road.

Renowned for their hectic hiring and firing policy, Watford’s hierarchy have succumbed to the fact that such a policy is no longer working. Prior to the successive appointments of Claudio Ranieri and Roy Hodgson, it had been more successful than not. Spending all but one of the past seven seasons in the Premier League is testament to that; it’s the most consistent top-flight football the Hornets have tasted in their 124-year history.

But the combined failures of the two veteran managers made the Pozzos sit up and take notice. Time for change was nigh, and what better time to change than ahead of a new season in a new division when the supporters have lost all faith in what came before.

Hodgson has pissed off the majority of Watford fans almost since day dot of his brief tenure. In some ways, Watford have felt doomed since before he took over, such has been the mesmeric shipwreck much of their season has been. In reality, they were just two points off safety when he took over. Every home game of his reign has ended in defeat. It has been a thoroughly miserable existence and their immediate return to the Championship alongside Norwich is an indictment of how both clubs set themselves up last summer.

Now, with the season not even over, Watford are looking to avoid the definition of insanity at last and change tact. CEO Scott Duxbury has drawn valid criticisms from Watford supporters this season but has at least now attempted to bring about change.

Unlike other troubled clubs, Watford’s problems can mostly be fixed by the man in the dugout. That has been their main failing in recent years, with even promotion-winning boss Xisco Munoz looking an ill fit for the number one job in Hertfordshire.

Duxbury had spoken of changing the profile of the next Hornets manager in April. A number of the EFL’s brightest bosses and coaches fit the bill –  MK Dons’ Liam Manning, Kieran McKenna of Ipswich, QPR first team coach John Eustace chief amongst them. But on Wednesday, League Two-winning boss Rob Edwards was linked and by late afternoon, his appointment was confirmed.

Watford bring in Rob Edwards

It came much to the chagrin of his previous employers Forest Green, who presented Edwards a first opportunity of EFL management this time last year after a successful interim spell which he took with both hands. Forest Green won the League Two title having been favourites to go up throughout the season.

Granted, there were caveats to that job well done. Edwards took over a talented team for whom promotion was expected this term, but Edwards achieved it with near-unassailable levels. Forest Green spent less than a month of the campaign outside the top three and over three quarters of it leading the pack. Exeter ran them close for the title in the end, but no team in the division could match Forest Green when it came to pressing.

Seeing a manager effectively trade a League Two club for a side which is still in the Premier League at the time of his appointment is seismic, but the clubs will be in the third and second tier respectively next season. That doesn’t detract from the leap of faith being shown in Edwards by Watford.

Even with three games remaining of their failed Premier League campaign, Watford have looked to the future. Edwards is nearly half the age of his two predecessors but can bring so much more to Vicarage Road than the former Chelsea and Liverpool managers have done.

Already, the fans are bustling with excitement. They are all too aware that this is Watford, and it could all so easily go wrong too. But Edwards represents a beacon of light and hope that the board and decision makers are at least trying to go about a much-needed rebuild the right way.

Effectively a free agent from the end of May, Watford snapped up an in-demand manager ahead of the curve. Ordinarily, a man who has achieved what Edwards has done in such a short space of time would require a stepping stone project at a Bolton or an Ipswich. Instead, Watford have cut out the middle man and fast-tracked Edwards.

From an interim rookie boss to being in charge of one of the promotion favourites to the Premier League in the space of 12 months is almost unheard of. Now, Watford must give the same backing and trust to a man who has chucked away a lot of goodwill at a club who gave him his chance.

There is the usual easy banter flowing about Edwards needing a new job by November, while legitimate concerns will be raised as to how Watford react in the event of an awfully slow start to 2022/23.

Pozzo should realise that in appointing a young head coach with much to learn, backing and security is key. Watford are relatively healthy when it comes to finances and Edwards already seems to be getting his Forest Green assistant to tread the same path to Hertfordshire with him. Kane Wilson, Ebou Adams and Matty Stevens could all have a fair chance of making the jump up too, having stood out across the campaign for the Nailsworth-based side and all improving their games seismically under one of the EFL’s hardest-working and friendliest managers.

What Watford fans have lost over the last 12 months is belief and hope for the project. Even in promotion, there was some removal and distance from a side which didn’t feel like theirs. Edwards may be a relative rookie, but he has experience in bringing joy and good times to the club he manages. The time is now right for mutual levels of trust and faith to be shown between manager and club.

Watford badly needed a change this summer. Ahead of schedule, the Hornets have made the perfect first step to doing just that.

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