Chris Wilder And Watford: What Is The End Goal For The Two Parties?

Chris Wilder has been appointed Watford manager until the end of the season
12:00, 10 Mar 2023

With this week’s appointment of Chris Wilder, Watford have now had a staggering 18 first-team permanent managers since July 2012. It is a record that far exceeds any other club in English football and a mantra that has now become so ingrained with the Hornets that the same jokes are having to be recycled multiple times a year on social media. 

‘Only three Watford managers til Christmas.’ 

As Wilder steps into the role, with Watford 10th in the Championship and four points off the play-offs, promotion back to the Premier League will be his primary task. The Hornets are not going to make up the ground on the top two, so the only way up is through the play-offs. It’s a tough ask, when you consider the form and strength of those currently occupying those positions. 


But the fixture list is kind to the new boss. Watford face four of the bottom six in their next five games, along with a derby with Luton Town thrown into the mix. The issue is for Wilder and Watford, what constitutes success, and what is the end goal for both parties?

In the short-term, that question is easy to answer. Promotion to the Premier League. It’s where every club wants to be due to the financial security it brings. Stability in the top flight is the dream for a club like Watford, with a cup run every now and again to inspire the fans. 

But they had that just a couple of seasons ago. In 2018-19 they reached the FA Cup final and finished 11th in the top flight under Javi Gracia, while they also spent five consecutive campaigns in the Premier League. Unsurprisingly, he was sacked the following September as part of Watford’s hire-and-fire policy that has marred the Pozzo regime. 

They had long-term success in the Premier League, and have now become a yo-yo club. There’s no possibility of building any sort of connection with fans or developing a playing style if the head coach changes every six months. It’s why it seems like a strange one for Wilder to take. 

He had huge success at Oxford United, Northampton Town and Sheffield United, but didn’t quite get things right in his last role at Middlesbrough. He’s without a doubt one of the finest managers in the Football League and deserves another shot in the top flight, but are Watford going to give him any time to build anything of substance? Probably not.

The contract he signed which only runs until the end of the season speaks volumes of how both parties are viewing this marriage. If he fails to make the top six, they will part ways quicker than Britney Spears and Jason Alexander, there’s almost no doubt about that. Should he make the play-offs, he will likely be given the start of next season, whether they get promoted or not. 

For managers such as Rob Edwards, Roy Hodgson and Slaven Bilic, it makes perfect sense to take the Watford job. It is a free hit in many ways, a place where you can get sacked and it will not damage your reputation in the slightest. Look at how well Edwards is doing at Luton as one example. 

But Wilder doesn’t need a free hit. He needs another Sheffield United. A place where he can spend five years remodelling the club in his image. Even if things go brilliantly well and he gets Watford promoted this season, a run of three defeats on the bounce could see him sacked a couple of months into the new campaign. 

Another promotion on his CV will be nice, but another sacking in the Premier League could raise questions about his ability to manage at the highest level. This marriage, for all the hopes and dreams Watford fans may harbour about Wilder, is only going to end one way. And it has nothing to do with the manager’s ability. 

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Watford 16/1 to get promoted*
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