Quique Sanchez Flores has not been afraid of making the big calls since he strolled into London Colney with his ruck sack casually slung over his shoulder to take charge of this promoted Watford team. Everyone thought it was a shock when, against Swansea City in September, he moved Troy Deeney, the darling of Vicarage Road and your archetypal No9, to the No10 role. Since then we quickly learnt never to second guess the head coach or waste our Friday nights trying to work out what team, let alone what variation of 4-2-3-1, he might come up with. Yet the coach dropped the bombshell of all bombshells on Saturday, the teamsheet at White Hart revealing the captain would start the game on the bench, the upshot of a bit of tiredness and Sanchez Flores’ desire to get as many of his technical ball players in the final third of the field as possible.
With that in mind, we look at five other big calls the bold and ballsy head coach has made this season:
Jettisoning Matej Vydra and Fernando Forestieri
It takes a coach with complete conviction and absolute faith in his ideas that he rocks up to a club he had not really heard of yet one on the crest of the wave and decides, fairly quickly, that two of the fans’ favourites are not for him and that they will be going. It became evident fairly early on there was going to be no room for sentiment. Forestieri went home, injured apparently, a few days into the Germany trip. Connor Smith was injured soon after and he stayed for the duration, despite being on crutches. Vydra started against Paderborn, and scored quite superbly, but the head coach had already seen enough in training to know that Vydra wasn’t going to buy into the discipline and work ethic he demands. Sanchez Flores was either being really stubborn or unwavering in his beliefs when he left Vydra kicking his heels on the bench when the match was goalless against West Bromwich Albion and likewise with Forestieri against Southampton, even though fans, on both occasions, were chanting their names. Had they come on, and scored, it would have left him with an even tougher call. The decision to loan one and sell the other have, it turns out, been correct. The way Almen Abdi ran his socks off against Liverpool showed the transformation Sanchez Flores was after from the existing players. Forestieri and Vydra were never going to buy into that.
Bringing Miguel Britos in for his league debut
This was the most ballsy of the lot in our book. Yes, Britos has been magnificent since and looked one of the finest defenders to wear the shirt since big John McClelland but the jury was very much out in the build up to a tricky test at the Britannia Stadium. Anyone who saw this defensive change coming and didn’t have a shred of doubt about the Uruguayan’s temperament and suitability are probably the same ones who believed Graham Simpson and Mark Ashton when they said the money for the East Stand was ring-fenced. Sebastian Prodl and Craig Cathcart looked like they had been playing together for most of their lives, so when Prodl was left out to face Mark Hughes’ rumbustious team in their own backyard, the thinking was the Austrian must have been injured. Oh no he wasn’t. Sanchez Flores sensed this was the time to blood Britos, the opportunity to show he was so much more than a hot head. And boy was he right. Britos hasn’t looked back since. What a defender he is, a classic Pozzo signing.
Starting Miguel Layun at Everton
Sanchez Flores only met the Mexican ten days before the season opener at Goodison Park. Layun, surely, had plenty of integrating to do and had no chance of doing that in time for an awkward opening day assignment at the home of Roberto Martinez’s free-flowing Toffees. He wasn’t in the XI of anyone who tried to second guess the head coach pre-match and select the team. Yet Sanchez Flores clearly saw something he really liked in Layun in the narrow pre-season defeat to Sevilla and thought, ‘Here’s a defensive-minded player I can trust to carry out my instructions to the letter’. And Layun did exactly that, even popping up with the opening goal. Given the faith in him, his versatility and his adaptability, it was just as a big a shock when Layun was allowed to leave for Porto after just four games.
There was a strange nervousness among club officials at the club’s training base in Germany. We couldn’t quite put our finger on it. It quickly became evident, as each day passed, that there was a row brewing with joint guests Besiktas over the use of the facilities at the Klosterpforte Hotel. Watford were not getting the time they had expected in the gym or, more importantly, on the training field. Sanchez Flores had to take his team, by coach, ten minutes down the road to a different facility just to put a session on. To put it in perspective, it would be like staying at The Grove with the expectation of using their manicured pitches and then having to travel to nearby Sun Sport FC to train. Sanchez Flores remained cool as a cucumber throughout but was insistent, to senior club officials back home, that the game against Eintracht Braunschweig would have to be cancelled. He hadn’t had nearly enough coaching time. This was a potential PR disaster, especially as hundreds of fans had arranged to come out to Germany for a long weekend with that Friday game in mind, but there was no other option, he felt. The length of the round trip to the game, for starters, was nonsensical. The club backed him and, not for the first time, their decision was vindicated. Those extra few sessions were invaluable in the build up to the Everton game.
Recalling Jose Holebas on Boxing Day
After the pre-match press conference against Chelsea on Christmas Eve, there was a mini straw poll between three members of the local media about who would start at left-back against the Blues on Boxing Day in place of the ineligible Nathan Ake. Even the club’s Head of Communications joined in. The result was a landslide, 4-0, in favour of Ikechi Anya. Holebas did not get one single vote. There was no reason for him to as he had not started a single game since August. Anya had played several times at left-back with real assurance and he was, to all intents and purposes, the next cab off the rank. So, you can imagine the reaction when Holebas’ name was included in the team news that broke an hour before kick-off. Everybody connected with Watford in the press room spat out the exquisite food they serve up pre-match at Stamford Bridge. Again, it was an inspired move. Conversely, the decision to leave the Greece international out against Tottenham on Saturday was just as big a call for us given how well he played three days earlier against Chelsea.