AROUND five million people in Britain are employed in the ‘gig economy’, or on zero-hours contracts, by the likes of Uber, Deliveroo and Amazon.
And we might as well add Watford Football Club.
As Claudio Ranieri becomes the 15th permanent manager at Vicarage Road under the ownership of the Pozzo family, you could argue there is a certain honesty about the Watford way.
No phony badge-kissing or dubious expressions of loyalty at this club. Two bad performances and it’s a Mafioso ‘whack’.
Xisco Munoz is the latest boss to sleep with the fishes — after a nine-month promotion-winning reign.
The popular Spaniard took over from Serbian miserabilist Vladimir Ivic midway through last season, changed the team’s shape, presided over ten wins in 11 games and led the club back to the Premier League.
Yet after two wins from seven top-flight matches, Munoz was gone, with the board feeling ‘recent performances strongly indicate a negative trend’.
These recent performances came in a draw with Newcastle and a 1-0 defeat at Leeds. Some ‘trend’.
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But does it matter? These managers may effectively be short-term contract workers, like the bloke on the scooter delivering your pizza — but they are not on minimum wage and are well-compensated when the bullet inevitably arrives.
Watford are not a huge club and have never won a major trophy.
By achieving five consecutive seasons in the Premier League under the Pozzo hire-and-fire policy from 2015 to 2020, they were probably punching above their weight.
Before Graham Taylor’s transformative ten-year reign, the Hornets had been a lower-league club.
While Taylor has a stand and a statue at Vicarage Road, nobody is pretending that Watford wish to find another manager with such longevity.
So if following a football club has much to do with identity — as it surely does — then what does it mean to support Watford, with managers treated like loan signings and players just passing through?
Sure, the Vic is a proper football ground, modernised but still providing a rocking old-school atmosphere.
And the Hornets boast strong community links, as one of the most proactive clubs at the height of the pandemic.
But on the football side, what are Watford known for? Sacking managers and that’s about it.
The sense of identity, which comes with stability, is easier to achieve at an elite club — we know what Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool are all about, just as we understood Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United and Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.
But we also recognise Sean Dyche’s Burnley, as we did with Eddie Howe’s Bournemouth. And even Graham Potter’s Brighton are already a definitive thing after only two and a bit years.
Thomas Frank’s Brentford, like Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds last term, are establishing themselves in the Premier League thanks to squads who are fully signed up to their manager’s methods.
Could a boss with the reputation of Bielsa ever be attracted to a short-term gig like Watford — or even an ambitious progressive such as Frank?
If the Munoz sacking feels harsh, even by Watford’s standards, then your memory is short. Nigel Pearson’s dismissal — two matches from the end of the 2019-20 season, when he might still have completed a similar great-escape job to the one he pulled off at Leicester — took some beating.
Success is no guarantee of survival either. Watford’s previous promotion-winning manager, Slavisa Jokanovic, didn’t get a stab at the Premier League after the club refused to improve his contract.
Javi Gracia, easily the longest-serving Watford boss of the last few years with 66 league matches, was fired four games after an FA Cup final.
Both Jokanovic and Gracia were replaced by Quique Sanchez Flores — sacked, badmouthed, re-hired three years later, then sacked again after 12 games.
Best of all was Billy McKinlay, appointed on a ‘permanent’ basis in September 2014, then sacked two games later — having won one and drawn one.
Yet Watford stamped their feet and screamed when Marco Silva was the subject of an ‘unwarranted approach’ from Everton, forcing an official ‘tapping-up’ probe, then blaming the Goodison club for destabilising them when they sacked the Portuguese.
The exit of long-serving skipper Troy Deeney means the only man truly synonymous with Watford is a bloke in a wasp costume, unruly mascot Harry the Hornet. Supporters are used to this weird and wonderful world by now — and their greatest concern is the ragbag nature of this summer’s player recruitment.
Watford now hope they are hiring the Ranieri who inspired Leicester’s title miracle. But the 69-year-old Italian has since taken on a more comparable job, bombing at newly promoted Fulham three seasons ago and sacked after 17 games.
Still, at least Ranieri is used to the ‘gig economy’ after 20 previous jobs.
As for Munoz, he can always buy a Prius with his pay-off money and sign up with Uber.
OLE RON RAGGED
WHEN you sign one of the greatest footballers of all time, the pressure cranks up.
And that’s what boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer acknowledged when Cristiano Ronaldo returned to Manchester United.
Leave him out of your starting line-up — as Solskjaer did against Everton — and there’s extra scrutiny.
Bring him on, with his limited defensive qualities, when you’re defending a 1-0 lead, the spotlight is harsher still.
And when Andros Town-send scores the equaliser, he impersonates Ronaldo’s trademark celebration — not as a p***-take, because Townsend is a good bloke — but because it’s Ronaldo.
Then, Townsend being a ‘Stars in their Eyes’ Ronaldo is the back-page photo.
Bringing even more scrutiny on why you left out the real one.
Two wins out of six with that man at your disposal.
It will continue all season. Relentless and deafening — Ronaldo, Ronaldo, Ronaldo.
THIS summer, it felt as though England’s footballers were an articulate, intelligent, socially aware bunch.
So to hear five of them are refusing to be vaccinated against Covid is troubling.
If you are willing to believe bizarre conspiracy theories and scare stories from online weirdos, rather than the words of scientists and doctors, you cannot be as intelligent as all that.
Jurgen Klopp was right to liken the refuseniks to drink-drivers. Now Gareth Southgate ought to use similarly strong language.
NO PLAN ‘B’, PEP?
THE debate rumbles on over whether Pep Guardiola should have signed a striker.
Alan Shearer claims Harry Kane would have hit 40 goals for Manchester City this term. If the England captain had a rare injury-free season, then maybe.
Shearer also reckons an average striker would score 20 for City — and this would be an interesting experiment. Assuming there is no one of Kane’s calibre available in January, what if City signed a B-lister, like Barcelona loaning journeyman Luuk De Jong?
Would he get them over the line in the title race with ten goals in half a season?
We will surely never know, as such a move would be an admission of failure for Guardiola.
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RUBEN LOFTUS-CHEEK and Ross Barkley made key contributions to Chelsea’s 3-1 win over Southampton, even though many people might have reasonably assumed both England midfielders had left the club.
That is what you call serious squad strength.
IF we are lumbered with VAR — and sadly we are — then surely an offence which may constitute a second yellow card, such as James Milner’s lunge at Bernardo Silva in Liverpool’s thrilling 2-2 draw with Manchester City, should be subject to the same scrutiny as a potential straight red?
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