Date: 7th October 2014 at 12:12pm
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At the risk of this piece being out of date seconds after it is published, here are my thoughts on the imminent departure of Billy McKinlay

At the risk of this piece being out of date seconds after it is published, here are my thoughts on the imminent departure of Billy McKinlay, and why the reasons and replacement are the most important factors.

It was reported last night that Billy McKinlay, in charge of the squad for just eight days until now, is on the brink of leaving Watford Football Club. It has since been stated by the Watford Observer, with some level of certainty, that McKinlay will indeed leave the club imminently, and that his replacement has already been lined up.

His replacement is apparently former Chelsea midfielder Slavi?a Jokanović.

The most interesting line of that Watford Observer article concerns the apparent reasoning behind McKinlay’s departure. The passage reads:

‘We have been told the Pozzos have since reviewed the decision [to appoint McKinlay] and deemed that they want someone with more experience of being a head coach.’

With the initial news last night leading many to speculate about whether or not McKinlay had been approached by Fulham, to which he has an obvious link, the Watford Observer have suggested that the Pozzos are the ones that made this decision, not McKinlay.

This raises a great deal of questions and concerns regarding the handling of what was admittedly a difficult situation in Oscar Garcia’s premature exit from the club.

First of all, I don’t think anyone could argue with Garcia’s decision to move on following a heart scare. The Spaniard was in hospital for almost a full week, and although he was apparently given the all-clear, football management is a very stressful job, and when faced with a health problem of potentially great magnitude, you have to do what you feel is right for you. These things are far more important than a job.

Garcia selected McKinlay as his first team coach – a sort of right-hand man – and when he made his decision to step down he recommended the Scot for the number one job. This was reported widely, and many supporters, myself included, felt this was a surprising move by the club given the speed of the appointment.

Furthermore, this was a throwback to the Watford of old; giving coaches their first job in management was something we did regularly pre-Pozzo takeover, but until McKinlay such a move seemed off the cards.

Optimism about the potential of McKinlay may have been due to previous good experiences of giving young British talent their first job as boss – Boothroyd, Rodgers, Mackay, Dyche, these are all names that have achieved a notable level of success one way or another.

But now, just eight days after Billy McKinlay was appointed head coach, the discussion is centred on whether or not the reasoning mentioned above, as reported by the Watford Observer, actually adds up.

The man slated to take McKinlay’s place is former Chelsea midfielder Slavi?a Jokanović. The Serbian has managerial experience, but does he have enough to justify replacing a man who has been given almost no chance to show his pedigree?

This, whether the Pozzos like it or not, will be the question that is asked for at least the next couple of weeks.

Slavi?a Jokanović’s record in management is not at all bad, and his lack of experience in management in this country should not be regarded as a huge negative. However his appointment does not tally with the Pozzos’ newfound tendency towards British experience in the hunt for promotion, as seen with the signings of Lloyd Dyer, Gabriel Tamas and Craig Cathcart.

Jokanović started his managerial career at Partizan Belgrade in 2008. He won the league and cup with them in the same year, and was selected as ‘Best Coach in Serbia’, but refused to receive the award
because Partizan fared poorly in the UEFA Cup.

In the following season, his first full season, Jokanović again won the league and cup, this time winning the league by 19 points. He was the first coach in the club’s history to successfully defend both league and cup.

Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, he then left the club by mutual consent at the start of the following season.

Since then, Jokanović has managed in Thailand, winning the league and going unbeaten with Muangthong United F.C. in 2012-13. He had a short spell as manager of Bulgarian team PFC Levski Sofia following this, but was sacked due to poor results after a few months, and is currently in charge at Spanish third-tier side Hércules CF, whom the Pozzos have had dealings with in the past through loaning out players from Granada.

There is no question that Jokanović has more experience of being a head coach than McKinlay, but there is also no question that McKinlay has a better insight into the English game at a coaching level.

From what I can tell, McKinlay may have been seen as a stop-gap following Garcia’s stepping down, and now that there is a longer break in fixtures the Pozzos can make the necessary changes. The fact that many of the coaches from Sannino’s staff, as well as Garcia’s assistants, have stayed on also reinforces the likelihood of this being the case.

McKinlay’s appointment was not seen by most fans as a temporary move though. What McKinlay himself was told when he was given the top job is of great interest and concern. Questions regarding what impression the Pozzos gave McKinlay the head coach job – when he was appointed head coach was he under the impression that he was here for the long-term? However, given the Pozzos record so far I feel like I should assume – as well as hope – they were professional and upfront about their intentions.

I hope the full story is told, and I certainly hope McKinlay has been treated with respect and dignity throughout. Fans will question whether the Pozzos have a point when they say that McKinlay didn’t have enough experience as a head coach, especially when his replacement has no experience of management in this country.

Patience is needed, and the club must be careful when they make an official announcement. It may well be that we are seen as a bit of a joke by fans of other clubs – seeing us appoint our fourth boss in 11 games is not exactly a great statistic – but it is the fans of our club that really matter, and it will take a measured approach to keep everyone onside.