Watford will join the lengthy list of suitors wishing to speak to Marco Silva after deciding to sack Walter Mazzarri amid player unrest, declining form and doubts over his motivational skills and training methods. The Italian will leave after Sunday’s final game of the season at home to Manchester City.
Silva’s impact at Hull City has made him one of the most sought-after coaches in England, with Southampton and West Ham also linked with the Portuguese. Had Hull remained in the top flight it would have cost rival clubs £3m to trigger the release clause in Silva’s contract but their relegation means he is free to leave. The fact that he has good knowledge of the Premier League, and more importantly for Watford given their experience with Mazzarri speaks good English, has ensured his place on their shortlist.
Mazzarri’s poor language skills and brusque style contributed to his unpopularity with Watford’s squad, with one source describing a “player revolt” over the second half of the season. A fractured relationship with the club’s captain and talisman, Troy Deeney, who has started several recent matches on the bench and wrote in his programme notes for last month’s victory over Swansea that the treatment he was experiencing “was not something I was expecting or was happy with”, was particularly troubling but far from unique.
The decision to terminate Mazzarri’s two-year deal was taken on Monday night, after the 4-3 defeat at Chelsea, and the process of shortlisting for his replacement began the following day, with no appointment believed to be imminent. Silva was immediately installed as 2-1 favourite, ahead of Claudio Ranieri. It is understood that the bookmakers’ third-favourite, Slavisa Jokanovic, who guided Watford to promotion from the Championship in 2015 and has impressed at Fulham this season, is not being considered.
Watford’s campaign has unravelled in recent weeks, with five successive defeats sending them plummeting down a congested table. As recently as 27 April the team were 10th, and they had neither dipped below 14th nor climbed above seventh since the end of August. They are 16th and should they slip one place further, a distinct possibility given their opponents on the final day and with Swansea two points beneath them, their final six results would have cost the club £13.3m in prize money, the difference between the merit payment for finishing 10th and the £7.6m received by the team that most narrowly avoids relegation.
With the players having a day off on Tuesday, Mazzarri was called to a meeting at Watford’s training ground with the owner, Gino Pozzo, the chairman, Scott Duxbury, and the sporting director, Luke Dowling. There he was informed that this would be his final week at the club. “After the board discussed with Walter Mazzarri the club’s future goals and aspirations, it was decided he will be stepping down from his position as the club’s head coach after the final game of the 2016-17 season,” Duxbury said in a statement on Wednesday. “We thank Walter and his staff for the contribution they have made to Watford Football Club over the past year.”
Though Mazzarri oversaw some impressive performances in big games, and eye-catching victories against Manchester United in September and Arsenal in January, it was felt that when the identity of the opponents did not in itself provide the team with sufficient motivation, Mazzarri was often unable to do so, with cup defeats by Gillingham and Millwall the most glaring examples.
He was also considered partly responsible for the injuries that have dogged Watford throughout the season. In particular, the frequency with which players have succumbed to muscle injuries – this Sunday they will be denied the services of four central defenders with a variety of muscular complaints – is thought more likely to be down to his training regime than bad luck.