And like that, Claudio Ranieri was gone. The latest victim of the Pozzos’ ruthless manager-slaying regime at Watford. The 12th head coach under their reign to meet his maker within less than 12 months in the Vicarage Road hot seat.
The reaction across the football world was almost as predictable as Ranieri’s dismissal. An outpouring of disdain towards the Hornets’ hire-‘em-fire-‘em approach, chastising the Pozzos for creating an unstable environment to deliver success.
Regardless of how Ranieri’s replacement Roy Hodgson fares, there is credence to those points, with Watford sitting at the most impulsive end of the spectrum when it comes to managerial impatience. But shouldn’t we just to learn to embrace the madness?
After all, we live in a world where we’re encouraged to celebrate diversity and break down barriers that have held back individuals and groups for decades. Yet here we are lambasting a club for doing things their own way, with countless neutral fans even wishing for Watford’s relegation to teach the Pozzos a lesson for their perceived misdemeanours.
There’s little doubt the approach creates intrigue, though, and has been pretty successful in recent years. Under the Pozzos, Watford have spent six of the past seven seasons in the Premier League, whereas before that they hadn’t enjoyed back-to-back campaigns in the top flight since 1987.
The reality is, the idea of a club with a model that can swap managers willy-nilly just doesn’t live up to our strong values, does it? Well, that’s what we’d have you believe, but it doesn’t quite ring true.
The only side currently below Watford in the Premier League are Burnley, who are managed by Sean Dyche – the first of the bosses given his P45 by the Pozzos in 2012. The former defender landed on his feet by getting the Clarets’ job a few months later, working wonders on a shoestring budget to earn two promotions and establish them as a Premier League side in a decade-long tenure.
On the face of it, Burnley and Dyche’s loyalty are the antithesis of Watford. Yet that doesn’t seem to curry much favour with the neutrals either – in fact, their stutter towards the Premier League trapdoor this year has been celebrated by a significant proportion of fans.
Burnley have been branded as the hipster’s choice to be relegated, with Dyche’s more direct style and predominantly British signings being branded ‘Brexit-ball’ on social media. It might not be glamorous, but it’s more often been effective than not.
The truth is, Dyche’s side play to their strengths. Traditionally solid at the back and hard to beat, they’re more of a throwback than many others in the Premier League, but certainly not the cavemen and luddites they’re made out to be.
There’s an argument that Burnley should be everyone’s favourite underdog, constantly upsetting the odds with a squad made of free transfers and signings from the Championship in a league littered with expensive imports and heavy investment. Against that backdrop, they still find a way to compete each year. Despite all that, there’s definitely a sense of ‘this is the year’ surrounding their struggles this season.
It’s true that certain playing styles will always win over more hearts than others. We liked to be entertained, so we’re drawn to the sides that make us want to tune in whenever they’re on TV. But there’s also a sense of snobbery about those that don’t fit that ideal.
That feeling is further fuelled by the likes of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp, who in the past have both appeared to criticise teams that try to disrupt their free-flowing attacking play. It adds to the impression that there is a ‘right’ way to play and win.
We’d all love to see teams duke it out playing a swashbuckling, passing game each week, but the reality is that football has always been about teams playing the way they can to compete at their highest possible level. And we shouldn’t airbrush that diversity out of the game.
More than a decade since Stoke City arrived in the Premier League in a blur of physicality, long throws and defensive organisation, we still use surviving a ‘cold, wet, windy night in Stoke’ as a barometer for new recruits handling the demands of the Premier League. And while it may feel a little patronising to Potters fans, there’s no doubt a trip to Stoke enhanced the narrative of our top flight, even if wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea.
It’d be unfair to say the present-day Premier League doesn’t celebrate individualism though. Take Brentford, for example, whose ingenuity and novel transfer policy has made them a breath of fresh air this season. If they can manage to establish themselves at this level, it will be interesting to see how they can maintain their reputation as they become more familiar.
When things go well, uniqueness is a charm. Yet it increasingly feels that when things go awry, the points that made our clubs different in the first place become a stick to beat them with.
The truth is, whether a team is sacking managers at a mind-blowing rate of knots, only signing players within a pre-defined niche or simply playing a more combative style than gets us on the edge of our seats, we should champion those differences not pick them apart. It’d be boring if we were all the same.