Opinion: Huddersfield Town and Watford are everything wrong with the modern game

Yesterday, Huddersfield Town sacked manager Danny Cowley, whilst Watford dismissed Nigel Pearson, writes Gary Hutchinson.

Okay, neither are in the ‘Real EFL’ as we term it. This is a website dedicated to the bottom two divisions where, in some respects, football maintains much of the appeal it had in days gone by. That appeal is largely lost in the upper echelons and yesterday’s events largely prove that.

What is perhaps sad, and relevant, is that once again promising English managers are given the push after pretty much fulfilling their remit when they set out. In Watford’s case, Nigel Pearson took over the Hornets had one win in 15 games and looked doomed. He leaves them three points above the dropzone, still in danger but certainly in a much stronger position than they were. It seems a frank exchange with Gino Pozzo led to Pearson getting the boot, despite almost fulfilling his remit.

Over in West Yorkshire, the decision to relieve Cowley of his duties raised a few more eyebrows. He took over a Huddersfield side in freefall, staring successive relegation in the face. Sunderland are a testament to what can happen when that occurs and The Terriers had to avoid it at all costs. Cowley, who won three trophies in as many years with Lincoln City, was 13th in the table if only looking at matches played after his arrival, a great effort at a club fractured and broken when he arrived. He has kept them up, but has been removed with Carlos Corberan, Leeds’ assistant, likely to take over.

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Which club has been cut off the bottom of this early 90s sticker?

Consider those two clubs for a moment, then consider Wycombe Wanderers. We’ve waxed lyrical about Wycombe on here recently already: they were struggling in League Two not so long back under Gareth Ainsworth, but the club stuck by him. He turned their fortunes around, winning two promotions to take them into the Championship. They were, up until recently, fan-owned and they reaped the rewards of loyalty. To a degree, one can also look at Exeter City as an example of a fan-centric club, one which stuck by Paul Tisdale for many years, and have done the same with their current boss Matt Taylor. As such, they achieve consistency and remain very close to their loyal fanbase.

I’m a Lincoln City fan and, as you may not know, I own this site. I leave the writing to others, I never want to taint the site with my Imps’ bias, but to see how Danny Cowley has been treated is, in my opinion, abhorrent. I suppose he is another like Nathan Jones and Paul Hurst who went for it in the Championship and had the rug pulled under them when things didn’t go well. Hurst took over a sinking ship at Ipswich and was made a scapegoat for their demise, whereas even I can’t put my finger on what went on at Stoke. What I do know is Luton Town look infinitely better now Jones is back there and you wouldn’t bet against them staying up as a result.

Whilst I don’t agree with what Huddersfield and Watford have done, I would say it really shouldn’t bother me as a lower league fan, but it does. They help to feed into a culture of disposal, one where fans feel a manager has no more than twenty games to get things right. Yesterday, as I enjoyed the rare glimpse of sunshine we’ve had this summer, my phone kept going off with people asking me if I’d take Danny Cowley back at Lincoln. That really ground my gears, because it reflected the attitudes shown by the owners of Watford and Huddersfield, a complete lack of respect for a manager and disregard for how long it takes to get things right. It suggested that was seeping into our fan base, as if I didn’t know it anyway.

I don’t know what it is with people these days, but they want a manager out if he doesn’t have you in the top ten almost immediately. There isn’t any pressure on Michael Appleton right now and rightly so, but the merry-go-round of the Championship and Premier League has fans of smaller clubs thinking that is how it should work here. As I’ve written this, I’ve had a text telling me we should get Cowley back because Michael Appleton’s win ratio is 31%. ‘Aah,’ I replied. ‘A win ratio with another man’s generals prepared to play in another man’s setup.’ It won’t hold any weight though, because fans see managers coming and going in the top two divisions and think it is the norm. They just don’t understand the wider implications, financially or otherwise.

I won’t write about yesterday’s event on my site, The Stacey West, because I don’t want to fuel the fires that rage courtesy of such recklessness. However, even the media is feeding into this horrible, callous culture. One local site ran a story claiming that fans wanted Danny Cowley back, and even here on my site, I had to reprimand a writer after publishing a story about Michael Appleton last week. Speculation, I’m all for. Disrespect and feeding into the whole boom or bust culture is something I do not want to get behind.

My point here is that the lower league game is suffering because of the actions of clubs like Huddersfield. They use their financial clout to decimate a club’s progress, then dispose of their prized asset at the first sign of trouble (or in Huddersfield’s case, the first sign of success). Shrewsbury struggled after losing Hurst, Lincoln have had to adapt and develop after Cowley left too. Both of those managers, as well as Ntahn Jones, deserved better, as did fans of their respective clubs. English coaches, in general, deserve better too, and that includes Nigel Pearson. He might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but there is no questioning the job he has done under tough circumstances at Watford, to be rewarded with what? The sack.

Football has enough problems to deal with, FFP rules which appear to be unfit for purpose, VAR, PPG, fit and proper tests, gambling, five subs and a host of other things, without adding in this culture of hiring and firing like a computer simulation. However, financial rewards are such that staying in the Premier League, and the Championship, is an absolute must and that means trigger-happy chairman are always ready to destroy a career and not build a legacy.

I’m not a bitter man, I’m happy with Lincoln City and Michael Appleton, but nothing would give me more pleasure than to see Huddersfield relegated next season, and even to see Watford suffer the same fate this time out. If that happens, little will change, but at least as a lower league fan, I will get a little satisfaction in knowing my club are not a basket case and our manager will get the time he deserves, no matter what local press want to suggest, intimate or even encourage.


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