Javi Gracia takes over as Watford’s 10th manager – and his first task will be to placate unhappy £40million asset Richarlison.
Hornets godfather Gino Pozzo moved swiftly to replace the sacked Marco Silva by installing former Malaga coach Gracia, 47, on an 18-month contract at Vicarage Road.
Silva was shocked to be fired after being summoned to a meeting with Pozzo, hours after the 2-0 defeat at Leicester stretched Watford’s nosedive towards the quicksands to just 11 points from a possible 48.
But while the fans approved of Pozzo’s firing pin and distanced themselves from lazy narrative about the high turnover of head coaches at Vicarage Road, £11.2 million discovery Richarlison broke ranks among the players.
The Brazilian winger, who has not scored since November 19 – dating back roughly to Silva plotting to jilt Watford for Everton – responded to his manager’s sacking by tweeting an angry-face emoji.
Richarlison, who opted to join Watford ahead of Dutch giants Ajax after Silva lobbied him personally in a 45-minute phone call, has already been linked with Arsenal and Chelsea.
After Silva’s abrupt departure, it will be no surprise if the Hornets cash in on their crown jewel this summer – but he has already been told there is no chance of leaving this month.
Gracia must pick the pieces after a winter of discontent at Vicarage Road, which began when Everton came calling for Silva – and the highly-rated Portugese coach, flattered by the vulgar wealth of a £4m salary and £100m transfer war chest at Goodison Park, fluttered his eyelids.
Pozzo refused the Toffees permission to approach Silva, believing they would respect the lack of an escape clause in his two-year contract and an unwritten agreement among Premier League clubs not to poach each other’s managers in mid-season.
But Everton, aware that Silva was keen to see the colour of Everton investor Farhad Moshiri’s money, refused to take ‘No’ for an answer, offering £8m, £10m and then £15m in compensation.
They only gave up the chase when Pozzo’s solicitors issued a cease-and-desist letter – a legal hands-off warning – and Watford threatened to report Everton to the FA for tapping-up.
Time and again Silva refused to distance himself from the Merseysiders, and his Watford players saw through the naked ambition of a progressive coach who was prepared to jump ship after only a dozen games at the club.
Where early-season performances were characterised by relentless pressing and late goals, the odds started stacking up against the Hornets, notably in a rash of red cards and a frightening injury list.
If the players did not withdraw their labour, results dipped alarmingly and the bond between Silva, his board and the squad was damaged beyond repair.
Mirror Sport revealed Silva was on thin ice on New Year’s Day after executive chairman Scott Duxbury stormed out of the directors’ lounge following the last-gasp defeat, in a blaze of negligence, against rock-bottom Swansea.
And although Silva, 40, could not see the writing on the wall, it was trailed in plumes of smoke across the sky when Pozzo refused to back him with reinforcements in the current transfer window.
It is a crushing blow for Silva, who was relegated with Hull last season despite a brave attempt to confound the odds, and now he leaves Watford facing another battle against the drop – and with his card marked as a fiercely-ambitious coach who tried to bail out at the first sign of a better offer.
Gracia, who kept Malaga safely in mid-table after a financial meltdown had stripped them of their best players, including Santi Cazorla, will evaluate his squad after taking his first training session on Monday morning.
He has been assured funds will be made available for new players to arrest the Hornets’ alarming slump.
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