Quique Sanchez Flores was dressed to impress this morning. His shoes were so polished you could see your face in them.
Sanchez Flores can never be accused of lacking style – he even managed to look cool in tracksuit and trainers on the touchline at The Hawthorns on Saturday, but here, at the club’s training ground in front of the biggest media presence all season, he was as smartly turned out as he’s been since the first time he walked into The 1881 Lounge as Watford head coach on a sunny day in June. He was there that day to woo and charm the media, to allow them to relay to the fans he was the upgrade on Slavisa Jokanovic the club knew he was and succeed where Graham Taylor and Aidy Boothroyd had miserably failed. He did a fine job.
This morning was different. Here he was, on the eve of an FA Cup semi-final, virtually suited and booted to put on a charm offensive and show, on the outside at least, he is unruffled by the speculation surrounding his job. You felt for him, and many at the club, that it had come to this, that this was the backdrop to Watford’s big day.
“This is the time to talk about Watford, the fans and what’s important for the club,” said Sanchez Flores. “Everyone can see Watford are playing at Wembley.”
Too right. The club would have been well within their right to ban questions about his future this morning but, to their credit, they didn’t. After all, Sanchez Flores has been around more blocks than the Manhattan skyline and spent most of his career answering questions from the unforgiving Spanish media. He could handle a few short-pitched deliveries from this lot.
“To talk about me is sad,” he said, in one fell swoop eliciting a great deal of sympathy from his inquisitors. “Now is not the time to talk about me.”
But there has been plenty of talk this week. It hasn’t stopped and is growing louder and louder. There is, we gather, more, much more, to this than suggestions Palace fans in the media are stirring the pot, that others are mischief-making. The stories have come from reliable journalists with credible sources. Why this information has leaked out now, ahead of such a big game, is another matter. The club are not about to issue any statement of denial as key influencers know anything is possible, given the fact Billy McKinlay was moved on after eight days and Jokanovic was not kept on after leading the club to the promised land. They know the dangers of saying never.
It will all, as it invariably does, come out in the wash one day and we’ll have our take and some insight on it in due course, but now’s not the time, not ahead of a game of this magnitude. Sanchez Flores is a canny operator and moved to mobilise the support of those with the loudest voice.
“You can tell the fans I adore them,” he said. “They know that but you can tell them. They know perfectly. I felt something special from the beginning. I am happy for them. Watford fans need to know that I am completely happy with Watford. That is the only thing they need to know.”
He doesn’t quite sound like a man who knows his fate, nor a dead man walking, but you’d have to be an idiot to come away from Upton Park on Wednesday night and UCL this morning and think that all was rosy. The training ground is such an intimate place, one where executives mingle with players and coaches, so a sensory man like Sanchez Flores will only have needed the lack of eye contact, a whisper, the conversation stopping when he walked into the room or a ‘Yeah, I’ll get back to you on that’ type comment to sense something is up. If there is something up, then Gino Pozzo and Scott Duxbury will have their reasons. The players, who hold all the power these days, will not have been shy in telling the people who run the club of any disaffection, any rumblings of discontent. At times like this, when big decisions are being mooted, it’s always worth recalling what Pozzo, in a rare statement, said after McKinlay’s brief tenure came to the abruptest of endings.
“Our job is always to act in the best long-term interests of this football club,” he said. “There can be no compromise on this – whatever the circumstances.”
Even, it seems, when those circumstances include the backdrop of back-to-back Premier League seasons for the first time ever and a run to the semi-final of the FA Cup. “The best time to fix the roof is when the sun is shining,” said Eddie Jones, the England Grand Slam winning coach this week.
“I want to enjoy this experience, enjoy the last part of the season,” said Sanchez Flores, sounding like a man on the home straight. “And I have a lot of reasons, too. I am focussed and completely happy with the situation. I am happy with my profession, I have amazing kids, amazing kids. My future is completely safe and is not important in this conversation.”