Is Javi Gracia the right fit for Watford?

by Colin Millar / 22 January 2018, 08:46

Watford’s swift appointment of Javi Gracia indicates the club had already lined up the Pamplona-native ahead of Marco Silva’s dismissal.

Gracia becomes the Hornets eighth permanent managerial appointment in three-and-a-half years – he is the third Spaniard on the list which also includes a Serb, a Scot, a Portuguese and two Italians.

Under the ownership of Gino Pozzo, the club have become a club with a global outlook in terms of recruitment, both in terms of managers and investment in the playing squad.

Gracia, 47, has been out of employment since June when an ill-fated stint in Russia with Rubin Kazan was cut short after one season. It was the first unsuccessful role in his career; cutting his teeth in the Spanish lower leagues, leading Pontevedra to first and second-placed finishes in Tercera, before gaining promotions with Cadiz and then guiding Almeria to the top flight in 2013.

However, the former holding midfielder has become most famed for two successive top-half finishes with Malaga between 2014 and 2016. The Costa Del Sol club had seen massive financial cuts to their playing staff yet Gracia, using unspectacular but highly effective tactics, guided them to successive impressive campaigns.

The Andalucians forged a reputation as being remarkably hard to break down and showing incredible resilience. They did not concede a goal in either game against treble-winning Barcelona in the 2014/15 campaign – including a famous 1-0 win at the Camp Nou.

The following season, Malaga conceded just 35 league goals including shutting out Real Madrid at the Bernabeu and a 1-0 defeat of Atletico Madrid. Gracia instilled a tremendous level of self-belief within the ranks of a squad whose playing ability was limited in comparison to the league’s leading clubs.

His move to Russia was one which disappointed many La Liga followers due to his rising status in the game with Spanish-based players Alex Song, Ruben Rochina and Jonathas among the recruits who followed him to Kazan. However, an apparent breakdown in communications between the manager and his playing staff led to mixed results and following an underwhelming ninth-placed finish, a mutual agreement saw Gracia relieved of his duties.

 

The seven months since have not been uneventful for Gracia, whose playing career is most remembered for a four-year spell at Real Sociedad in the late 1990s. The summer saw him linked to a host of high-profile managerial jobs in Spain including those at Real Betis, Sevilla and Athletic Bilbao. His name has been once more linked to both Seville-based clubs, and he was reported to have been the Sevilla players choice to replace Eduardo Berizzo last month before the job eventually went to Vincenzo Montella.

He is said to have reached a high-level of English and has always wanted a managerial move to England, but that this will be tenth club he has coached in a managerial career which he began in just 2007 indicates this may not prove a long-term appointment. However, the Hornets are shipping too many goals and too often are swatted away with ease by the league’s leading lights. As Gracia proved at La Rosaleda, he should be just the man to combat these failings.

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