Tuesday 4 November ~
On a day when Britain’s newly found love of Formula One was reflected in 45,000 column inches on Lewis Hamilton, three managerial departures in the Football League were largely ignored. Stan Ternent leaves Huddersfield by mutual consent after just six months and four wins; John Ward exits Carlisle by mutual consent after nine defeats in their last ten games; but – far more interestingly than these two journeymen (12 clubs managed between them) hitting the road again – is the departure of Aidy Boothroyd from Watford, a manager who tried, and for a while succeeded, to tread a modern managerial path.
After Boothroyd’s solid yet unspectacular playing career was ended abruptly by injury at the age of 26, he was appointed to manage the Under-17, Under-19 and reserve teams at his club Peterborough United. What followed was a trawl around the backrooms of Carrow Road, The Hawthorns and Elland Road, before he finally landed the top job at Watford at the age of 34, much to the surprise and concern of many of the club’s fans, it has to be said. However, what Boothroyd lacked in experience, he made up for in education and analytical ability.
Having taken over a club in trouble in March Boothroyd steered Watford away from relegation in his first season before surprising many by taking the club into the Premier League. He did this by using the scientific management ideas he learnt from his time at Warwick University Business School and books such as Michael Lewis’s seminal Moneyball, which describes how the Oakland Athletics found success in Major League Baseball through a modern analysis of statistics produced by Harvard business graduates rather than baseball insiders. Boothroyd’s preparation and analysis helped Watford ascend the relatively level playing field of the Championship through the creation of small but important advantages on the pitch; however in the Premier League the power of money was just too strong and relegation followed.
Yet it wasn’t as simple as returning to the Championship and repeating the trick. After leading the league by eight points last season Watford plummeted down the table and were lucky to make the play-offs, where they were beaten by Hull. This season they have taken 15 points from 15 games and sit 21st in the table. And what of the other young managers who have trodden similar educational paths to Boothroyd? Iain Dowie has just been sacked by QPR and Alan Pardew’s Charlton are one place below Watford in the Championship. Is it time to fine-tune those analytical techniques? Josh Widdicombe