Gino Pozzo has been in charge of Watford FC for over a decade. Success came relatively early, culminating in the FA Cup final in 2019, but the last few years have been lean to say the least. His methods have always been curious and foreign to the fanbase, but when it worked on the pitch, we mostly didn’t care and would in fact defend them when they were routinely criticized by outsiders, gleefully doing so especially when it’s coming from reactionary British pundits.
But since the relegation in 2020, we didn’t need Martin Samuel to talk shit about Gino and his ways: we have an increasingly vocal group of fans willing to carry the torch. Much of the criticism is merited, if not leaning a bit too much into recency bias. His seeming stubbornness in sticking to what he knows in a rapidly changing football landscape is perhaps the overarching theme that is hard to fully refute by even the most ardent Pozzo-Ins.
Having been pretty much silent since he took over, Gino finally spoke to fans directly last month in a fans forum that was much more controversial than it really should have been. Coming out of it, the consensus was that he and Scott Duxbury said nothing of much interest, which didn’t surprise me. In a Q&A format like that where question-askers couldn’t drill-in with follow ups, one that is live-blogged to the rest of the Watford world, how deep could we really get, especially with a man not known to be super open about his philosophy and the reasons behind it?
That said, when I finally listened to the audio, I was quite surprised at how much I actually did learn. Perhaps not directly from the things that he said, but from the way he said them, the points that he emphasized – and ones he dismissed or glossed over. Basically, it was more informative than I had first thought.
So what did I learn? I don’t think I can cover it all in one post, but what struck me the most is his conviction, stubbornness if you will, of the process by which he sees his football philosophy getting turned into reality. Let me unpack that a little.
By process, I mean the methods he puts in place, repeatable elements that he relies on to accomplish short term goals, that when combined, allow him and the club to achieve longer term goals. To him, the rightness of that process supersede whether the results achieved actually meets his and the fans’ expectations. While randomness and swings in luck can alter on-pitch results dramatically one way or another, the methods he installs and their application are a lot less flakey if the right checks and balances are put in place.
This is why, despite many fans’ insistence that he ought to have learned something from the results of the past two relegations, this was never going to happen. At least that’s the impression I got after listening to him speak. The aforementioned appearance of stubbornness, the lack of contrition, comes from rejecting the notion that on-pitch failures are necessarily caused by the mistakes of his process.
Some would take this as arrogance, that he thinks his process is perfect and that the two relegations in three years is not on him. I actually don’t think he feels that way. While I don’t think he believes that his process is at fault, I think he thinks that mistakes were made in the application of it.
Finding the right head coach that aligns with his vision of what a successful style of football management looks like is part of the process. He felt Vladimir Ivic and Rob Edwards can bring that to the table, but for different reasons, neither met his expectations when they came in, so he dispensed with them quickly. I don’t think it’s the results that doomed them, but rather what Gino saw behind the scenes, that how they ran training, managed the individuals, etc. didn’t meet his expectations. And given the results were middling, sacking them fast instead of waiting around for what to him as the inevitable was a no-brainer to him.
The process was not at fault. But hiring Ivic and Edwards was. At least that’s how I think he feels.
Now, this may sound like I’m splitting hairs, but in fact I think this is precisely the kind of nuance you have to parse in order to understand why Gino does what he does. Am I reading the tea leaves a bit? Sure, maybe. But he’s never going to tell us directly (a point I’ll elaborate on in a later post), so I’m just going to have to do my best to decode him.