Scot has worked wonders on the tightest of budgets
It has been a busy old season in the Championship.
Before football had even started, six managers were starting their career with new clubs. Incredibly, since August ten more managers have left clubs, from the Steve Coppell debacle at Bristol City to Sheffield United having three different managers before the new year. Five clubs have new owners. Fancied clubs have struggled (Middlesbrough and Ipswich) and two of the current top three have never tasted Premier League football.
But perhaps the most impressive feat has been merely simmering beneath the surface, seemingly slipping under the radar. Malky Mackay’s Watford sit in sixth place, and will go into the automatic promotion places if they win their games in hand. Yesterday they comfortably dispatched Derby 3-0 , making it seven consecutive league wins. This is a club record.
Scot Mackay sits at the helm, enhancing a reputation as a young manager with the potential to manage at the highest level. To say Mackay has done a great job would be an understatement to rival “Wayne Bridge’s debut wasn’t great” or “Beckham being at Spurs seems to be in the news a bit recently”.
The 2009/10 season was dominated by off-field financial issues for Watford. Lent money by VGS, a company owned by shareholders Jimmy and Vince Russo, in December 2009 the club were around £5million in debt, secured against the stadium, Vicarage Road. When the Russo’s resigned from the board at the AGM, they demanded the loan repayments immediately. With the club unable to meet these demands, it seemed that Watford may enter administration. Thankfully the club were able to rely on investment from Lord Ashcroft in order to secure the short term future of the club, but it was reported that they had come within three hours of administation and a points deduction that would have relegated the club.
On the field, life was nearly as rocky. Dropping from an early playoff position, Watford were 21st with five games to go, before eventually cementing their Championship status. This was also Mackay’s first season at the helm. The Scot admitted that at times the situation at the club had depressed him, and that he had sought advice from other Scottish managers. He describes the feelings of last season:
“I’m just glad we came through it. The pressure was horrendous and I wouldn’t want to go through it again. I probably crammed five years’ worth of challenges into one season. The club had to sell five players on the last day of the August transfer window.”
Whilst fans were understanding of the situation facing Malky, his promotion from reserve team manager was viewed as a safe, if unambitious appointment.
Before the season began, fans were at last hopeful. No first-team players (with the possible exception of Jay DeMerit) had left the club, in a paradox to a year before when Tommy Smith, Tamas Priskin and Jobi McAnuff had been sold. Although there was seemingly no funds to improve the squad, Mackay felt he had the nucleus to succeed.
The transformation has been impressive, and evolution has become revolution at Vicarage Road. Striker Danny Graham is the Championship’s leading scorer with 15 goals, and in youngster Marvin ‘Score’ Sordell, the club have found the perfect young foil. The 19-year-old has chipped in with nine league goals.
As well as their run of seven wins on the spin, the 3-0 win over Derby now also means that Watford are the only club in the division to be averaging two goals per game in the league.
This from a club that has spent a total of less than £1million on players since 2008 and has an average attendance of under 14000.
Due to recent economic crises, Mackay has worked tirelessly alongside the club’s academy to aid the progression of young players into the first team. Thirteen of their squad this weekend were 24 or under, and seven were under 21. Players such as Will Buckley, Scott Loach and Jordan Mutch have become household names, and put their progression down to the atmosphere created by Mackay. Reserve goalkeeper Rene Gilmartin explains such a mood:
“It’s like something I’ve never been involved with at international sides or Walsall, the togetherness keeps the club going. The togetherness around this group from the staff all the way down to the youngest player, it’s great to see.”
It is not simply a promotion push that Mackay has helped create but instead a basis by which Watford can grow as a collective. They may well lose some of their star names, but Mackay is aware that this can guarantee the long term stability of the football club:
It’s something I’ve always known so it’s no more a concern than it was six months or a year ago. We’re in a position where we’re in need of financial help.
Inevitably, Mackay has been linked with pastures new. Burnley were rumoured to have offered Watford a severence package, and there were hints that Alan Pardew wanted Mackay as his number 2 at Newcastle.
Although predictions of loyalty are dangerous (and yes I am talking about you Eddie Howe!), Mackay seems settled at a club that is recovering impressively from evident adversity. And long may that continue. If it does, then the Premier League may meet another Scottish manager to add to its already bulging contingent. And that will be with or without Watford FC.