New Watford boss: What will Walter Mazzarri bring to Hornets nest?
Holly Thackeray | May 14, 2016
Many pundits were puzzled as to why Watford owners the Pozzo family decided to part ways with coach Quique Sanchez Flores after just one campaign, in which the Spaniard steered the Hornets to Premier League safety and stability, as well as an FA Cup semi-final.
Yet, almost a year ago, Slavisa Jokanovic left the Vicarage Road posting having guided the Hertfordshire outfit spectacularly back to the top-flight. So, there is certainly form here, with seven Hornets gaffers having come and gone since 2012.
And now, Italian tactician Walter Mazzarri has been named as the newest Watford boss on the block. The gaffer has inked a three-year deal as expected, which will begin on July 1st. But just what will he bring to Watford?
Pozzo family pick Mazzarri
Former Inter Milan and Napoli coach Mazzarri was the most intriguing choice in the managerial market, and is quite a coup for the Hornets considering his CV.
Speaking of their swoop for his signature, Watford chief executive Scott Duxbury said: “Walter has been the target of a number of approaches for his services, so we’re delighted to secure him as head coach here at Watford.
“We’re thoroughly looking forward to working with such a highly regarded coach, with the progress and development of the club always remaining the highest priority.” Can Mazzarri, then, be the man to spur the Hornets on further?
Mazzarri of the iron fist
According to reports, ex-Inter coach Mazzarri was curiously still under contract with the Nerazzurri until the end of June, having been given his marching orders from the San Siro sidelines back in 2014, with the Tuscan tactician seemingly failing to find another role in the interim.
After so long on the sidelines, then, it is fair to argue Mazzarri could be more than a little rusty, while compared to Serie A, the Premier League is a completely different kettle of fish.
However, it appears the Pozzos were keen to put a compatriot in charge at Vicarage Road, with Swansea City’s Francesco Guidolin supposedly scouted before he signed up to the Liberty Stadium for another season.
Mazzarri may not have been first choice then, but he can certainly add Italian intensity to the Vicarage Road ranks. Dugout discipline is one thing in particular that could come under his watchful eye as although Watford’s raft of new signings gelled admirably under Sanchez Flores, caution must be taken when suddenly pumping lots of cash into a club, lest you end up like QPR.
Keeping the players in check and motivating the men for a new campaign would be the Italian’s main task. And if former charge Walter Gargano’s comments are anything to go by, the Hornets may be in for a shock.
“They weren’t tactical problems: He thought that it was enough to tell me ‘you must do it like this, I decide’.”
“Ok, you decide, but it’s me that goes out onto the pitch!
“Mazzarri had some problems with [Ezequiel] Lavezzi and was never appreciative of me. There was one day when Pocho wanted to punch him and I had to stop him! If I hadn’t been there…,” said the Uruguayan.
“The reason for the fight? Because Mazzarri always wanted to have the last word.” If Mazzarri is to be the new manager, Watford may find he has an iron fist. Much will depend on the squad’s character as to whether they embrace it, or if the 54-year-old ruffles feathers the wrong way.
As for Mazzarri’s suitability for the Vicarage Road role, the San Vincenzo native is at least used to owners with high expectations and ambition, having served at Napoli from 2009-2013.
Largely, the former midfielder did a fantastic job with the Little Donkeys, making the Campania club a solid Champions League side, infamously beating Chelsea in a first leg of a last 16 scuffle, while guiding Napoli to a second place Serie A finish before his departure.
If Watford are aiming for more than survival, and even more than mid-table, which it certainly seems, Mazzarri, known for his tactical innovation, is an excellent all-round choice.
Formations with three at the back are favoured, with little flexibility there, but would it work in England? This type of set-up briefly became en vogue again outside Italy again thanks to Chile and the Netherlands’ exploits at the 2014 World Cup.
Could Italian tactics work in England?
Yet, Louis van Gaal’s attempts to take that to Old Trafford largely failed, with the wings often exposed and exploited, and not enough bodies adding to the Manchester United attack.
Though, Mazzarri is a much more forward-thinking and attack-minded manager (especially for an Italian), as his famous 3-4-3 formation (even called a courageous 3-2-5 at its boldest) at the Stadio San Paolo thrilled fans, regularly producing fast and furious football.
The right personnel would be required to imitate anything close to that team which boasted top quality across the pitch, with Lavezzi partnering fellow South American Edinson Cavani up top as part of the front three, and Marek Hamsik dropping deeper back into midfield when defending, and rejoining the attacking triumvirate when on the front foot.
Mazzarri has shown he is flexible according to the roster, however, so Watford fans wondering how their players could possibly fill the required roles can breathe a slight sigh of relief.
After losing Lavezzi, Mazzarri also illustrated his nous with a more rigid 3-5-2, which could be perfect for frontman Odion Ighalo and his foil/skipper Troy Deeney. Much relies on the dangermen in this scenario, so the pair would require more consistency then their just their prolific purple patches from this term.
Though with Ighalo linked with a move away, Watford have been mooted to capture a potentially more flexible forward fit for a Mazzarri system in West Bromwich Albion’s Saido Berahino (33/1 to next join the Hornets), who can operate up top, behind a main striker or even slightly wide as part of a front three. While, midfield shield Etienne Capoue could lend himself excellently to the anchoring Gokhan Inler role.
Serie A safety
For any also fearing the Italian may have tastes a little too rich for Hertfordshire, after enjoying time with Italy’s elite, they need not fear as Mazzarri has clawed his way up the coaching ranks.
Schooled in ensuring survival from his time with minnows Reggina, who he kept in Serie A for three successive seasons, despite limited resources, his history bodes well should the Hornets find themselves in a survival scrap.
While, when a little further up the food chain, perhaps at the level Watford are aiming for, Mazzarri also ensured next side Sampdoria qualified for the then UEFA Cup and even took them to a Coppa Italia final.
Doubts may remain from an ultimately underwhelming stint with the Nerazzurri, yet despite his San Siro woes Mazzarri was still credited with handing Inter an identity, and an attacking one at that. With a jumble of players hastily assembled at Vicarage Road, Mazzarri, although a risk may prove a rewarding one, as he could certainly hand the Hornets a style of their own.