Beliefs over big names
22 December ~ Gianfranco Zola resigned this week from his position as Watford’s head coach, only to be swiftly replaced by little-known 56-year-old Italian, Giuseppe Sannino. Following an unexceptional playing career (think Aidy Boothroyd, only more so) the new man has a managerial pedigree comprising considerable success in the lower Italian leagues and considerable failure – first with Palermo and more recently Chievo – in Serie A. The speed of Sannino’s appointment on Wednesday, having flown over the previous day for dinner with the owners, leads only to one of two conclusions.
Zola’s resignation was nothing of the sort or, alternatively, the Pozzo family were impressively well prepared for such an eventuality. I suspect the latter. He appeared a great fit for the Vicarage Road job when appointed by the new Italian owners in July 2012. He lived in England, spoke the language well and had experience as player and coach which would earn instant respect among both current staff and potential recruits. He’s also, as Watford striker Troy Deeney said earlier this week, "easily the nicest man in football", a view shared by many around the game.
So they've gone from a fluent, universally loved and respected international icon to an old bald bloke who nobody knows, never played and can't speak the language. Taken at face value it’s not great news for Watford fans. Yet Sannino is far more indicative of the Pozzo Way than Zola. The family have rarely recruited big-name coaches at Udinese or Granada, preferring to concentrate on core values and how these are reflected in the teams they select.
“To win, you need to be angry, but with a smile on your face.” “I want us to be a humble and hard-working side.” “On paper we are disadvantaged compared to everyone else.” “Every component of the squad is gifted nothing, by anyone.” Sannino soundbites, all illustrating the disciplined team spirit he will surely look to engender. You wouldn’t have heard Zola talk like that, and humility and hard work would barely feature in a list of descriptors applied to the current squad.
But Zola’s record at Watford was good. His win percentage (44) bettered all predecessors back to Steve Harrison in 1990. The club’s last three managers – Brendan Rodgers, Malky Mackay and Sean Dyche – have gone on to achieve significantly although, in Dyche’s case, this remains work in progress. Dyche, ironically, would seem to epitomise many of the Pozzo values so that his dismissal, to accommodate Zola, might now be regarded as an opportunity missed by the family.
Unlike the ludicrously unsuccessful Gianluca Vialli, Zola will be remembered fondly at Vicarage Road. But Sannino, whose team earned a point at Ipswich yesterday with a late Deeney goal, will also receive a warm welcome when he emerges on Boxing Day, at least in part for who he isn’t – Ian Holloway for starters. He may not be around for long, having already had 13 clubs in 17 years, but in many ways Giuseppe Sannino should be regarded as Watford’s first truly European-style head coach. David Harrison