By Omar Moore
July 20, 2020
What sweet and utter madness is this? Nigel Pearson, pack your bags???
The exact official Watford statement, eight hours after a trillion news organizations reported the news of Pearson’s abrupt departure from Watford Football Club as its head coach was essentially thirteen words: “Watford FC confirms that Nigel Pearson has left the club with immediate effect.”
There was no “we wish Nigel Pearson well in his future endeavours.” There was no “Watford FC would like to thank Nigel Pearson for his time at the club.”
The other words — if you skip over the ones about Hayden Mullins resuming caretaker manager duties seven months after first having them at Vicarage Road — were the West Hammering of ice bricks on a dysfunctional cast-iron(s) Watford cake: “The club will have no further comment.”
Terse, pointed, as brusque and brutal as can be for a man who had taken Watford from 20th place (that’s dead last for those scoring at home) in the Premier League in December 2019, where they had been sitting for five-plus months, to the 17th place they are precariously perched in now, three points clear of the relegation zone, with two games left in the season. The official Watford FC statement may as well have read: don’t you ever, ever aggravate the owner of our football club.
That owner is Gino Pozzo. For the seven years Pozzo has owned Watford Football Club he’s been ruthless with managers. No mercy. No Edith Piaf-type regrets. (Well, maybe Quique Sanchez Flores. At least there were some regrets for sacking him the first time around.) At Watford a staggering fourteen managerial changes have been made in those seven years by Pozzo — an average of two a season. This turbulent, despairing 2019-20 Premier League season has seen four managers in the Watford hot seat including caretaker Mullins, who earlier this season acquitted himself well in a brief two-game stint. The players played for him. They bought in. Watford as a team played well in the games: a loss at Leicester, a home draw against Crystal Palace.
It is truly staggering that twice this season Watford have returned to a prior well to boost a team that has flagged in confidence all of this season and much of last. Sanchez Flores and now Mullins again in another caretaker role. Will Hayden Mullins be looked at next season by the Watford board for the head coach job full time should he finish the job Pearson started?
Shouldn’t he at least be seriously looked at?
Better yet, shouldn’t the Watford board and recruiting be looked at? Scott Duxbury? Fillippo Giraldi?
A possible new Watford FC stadium in Bushey? Whatever happened to the adding of a tier atop the Sir Elton John Stand? Can we sort out the affairs on the pitch first and in the recruiting system before there’s even hints of talk about a move from Vicarage Road?
The wisdom of sacking a manager who had the highest winning percentage in Watford Premier League history and just two games remaining in the season was pure Noddy logic. Muppetry. Even by Pozzo’s own standards, this savage exit was a bridge too far.
Or so I thought.
Then came word from Adam Leventhal of The Athletic UK that Nigel Pearson went a step too far on Friday after the debacle at West Ham and said things to Gino Pozzo that meant the end of the line. When you mouth off to the owner of a club — if what was said was sufficiently voluble or incendiary or in poor taste, especially to someone as ruthless and single-minded as Gino Pozzo — you will always come off second best. Turns out that Pozzo let Pearson twist for 36 hours, according to Leventhal, and jettisoned him before a Sunday training session.
For all his managerial great escapes Nigel Pearson is universally renown as a hothead whose temper can often get the best of him. Pearson’s time at Leicester City, where he pulled off an escape from the relegation trapdoor in 2015, was marred by tantrums, verbal assaults, physical altercations and outbursts at the English sports media, at fans, at his own players and opposing players. Pearson put his hand around the throat of Crystal Palace player James McCarthy during a Premier League match in 2015. Pearson as Leicester manager also got into it with an abusive Leicester football fan whom he responded to saying, “fuck off and die”.
The now-former Watford head coach has had numerous other contretemps over the years. There was this infamous exchange (also embedded below) with veteran BBC sports radio reporter and commentator Pat Murphy in April 2015. Murphy rightly challenged Pearson, then-manager at Leicester City, about his behaviour. Pearson, who was sacked as Leicester manager in June 2015 and whose footballing son James was dismissed from Leicester City that same year for his involvement in a racist sex tape, had since reportedly seen a psychologist about his outbursts and other anti-social behaviors. Yet that lack of self-control returned in whatever words were spoken to Gino Pozzo on Friday night after the 3-1 Watford defeat at the London Stadium.
Some senior Watford players apparently knew on Friday night after the dismal display at West Ham that Pearson was a goner. Pearson had no idea. Until Sunday.
The Athletic UK also said dissension existed among some players in the Watford ranks due to the instability of the Club regarding the frequent change of manager. There was also news that owner Pozzo and the Watford board had become increasingly dissatisfied and incensed by Pearson’s choice to bypass playing youngsters Domingos Quina and Joao Pedro (who came on in the 86th minute on Friday night after things were done and dusted.) Odd substitution patterns (Abdoulaye Doucoure taken off ten minutes or so after being the architect of the Watford goal and a driving force behind their brief revival at West Ham) and the absence of Jose Cholevas from the entire squad were especially curious (to me, numerous other Watford fans, to Pozzo and the Watford board.)
While Pearson, who this season guided Watford to impressive Premier League wins over Manchester United, Wolves and Liverpool, should be thanked for his great work in the seven months he steered Watford from trouble, what cannot be denied is that the Watford team lacked the cutting edge mentality needed during Project Restart. Every one of their seven games since the restart saw Watford concede the first goal of the match. In four of those seven matches the Hornets lost.
After a while a honeymoon must be finally declared over. Even the sleepiest Hornets fan on the planet can see that in these seven restart matches so far Watford have lacked a collective mindset on the pitch, a go-for-it-at-all-costs desire reflecting the energy and fight required of a team fighting for its Premier League life. In the 1-1 draw against Leicester and the 2-1 wins over Norwich and Newcastle that spirit existed, albeit briefly. In the four losses however, that same fighting spirit was on the beach watching the horizon, while drinking your favourite beer.
Now, at this most critical juncture, the Watford players and the leaders on the team must focus squarely on the job at hand. Two games. Manchester City on Tuesday. Arsenal on Sunday. Watford still have their destiny in their own hands. This sharp jettisoning of Pearson will be something Watford must put out of their minds with their Premier League survival at stake. Yet no matter how professional one is, if toxicity exists in a dressing room, hierarchy or management it will affect on-field performance.
Even so, it is worth reminding even the most pessimistic Watford fan that the players at Watford work extremely hard. They are trying. They are simply not executing the finished product or vision they have been tasked with, however. Watford players must be held accountable for the poor and inexplicable responses to the mission at hand — staying in the Premier League.
Which is why last Friday night in particular at West Ham was so profoundly disappointing. Something is surely going on at Watford beyond the results. If the issues regarding Nigel Pearson were only results-based he’d have been sacked after the three consecutive losses (Burnley, Southampton, Chelsea) that Watford suffered in an eleven-day span.
While some of us, indeed many of us, rightly castigated the Watford team performance last Friday, Nigel Pearson, who publicly called his team “passengers” after the West Ham defeat, let himself and the team down with his own antics with Gino Pozzo on Friday night. Getting into verbals with the owner who is signing your paychecks is never wise.
Even with that truth I will say what the Watford board, Gino Pozzo and his ego could never say: thanks for everything, Nigel. Sorry that it didn’t quite work out in the end at Watford and you couldn’t at least finish out the season.
You earned the right to at least finish what you started this season at Watford, Nigel, if nothing else.
Tweet: In what would be his final post-game on field interview as Watford head coach Nigel Pearson calls his #WatfordFC team “passengers”. Understatement. Only Sarr showed the relentless fighting spirit tonight. The only expectation now from me is the Orns will be up for City. They’ve not played strong opposition at all since the restart. They’ve lollygagged. 1/2
Tweet: Only other upside is that #WatfordFC cannot possibly play worse than they did in that first half. Bring the second half mentality of the West Ham match into the START and FINISH against City. Put in a performance against City. Show that you care. End the schoolboy error show. 2/2