When Watford wrote in their parting statement with manager Quique Sanchez Flores in May 2016 that he “leaves with all our best wishes for the future and the knowledge he is always welcome at Vicarage Road” it appeared a generic gesture of good will.
But three years and three months – and three managers – on from publishing that line on their club website, Watford have shown that their promise was not a hollow one.
After moving with characteristic swiftness in sacking Javi Gracia on Saturday, the Premier League club announced Sanchez Flores as his successor just 30 minutes later.
Following just a week of reacquainting himself with his former players and staff at Watford’s London Colney training ground and introducing himself to new faces, Sanchez Flores will kick off his second spell by facing Arsenal at Vicarage Road on Sunday.
It has been clear for some time now that Watford don’t follow normal football conventions. Stability doesn’t appear to be a state that is necessarily being strived towards.
Sanchez Flores, who guided the Hornets to 13th in 2015-16 in their first campaign back in the Premier League, has become the club’s 10th head coach since 2012.
That Watford pulled the trigger on Gracia after a run of three defeats and a draw left them bottom of the early-season table can be viewed as harsh, considering he helped them reach the FA Cup final and finish 11th last season.
But it is also unsurprising, given the club’s unsentimental, results-first ethos and the fact their only league win since 2 April came against relegated Huddersfield.
That they’ve reappointed a former boss for only the fourth time in the club’s long history and have become just the sixth Premier League side to do so is more noteworthy, especially given the way Sanchez Flores and Watford split back in 2016.
“The club and me don’t have the same point of view about the season,” the 54-year-old Spaniard said upon announcing the parting of ways. That was his public explanation.
Privately, despite saying he was “completely happy” with his year in charge and had he “enjoyed the experience,” Sanchez Flores’ relationship with the club’s hierarchy was said to have broken down beyond repair.
Water under the bridge
Clearly, then, enough water has now passed under the bridge in the intervening years for both parties to renew their working relationships, but it remains an interesting dynamic on which to try and build.
There are advantages. Unlike a completely fresh appointment, Sanchez Flores and three of his backroom staff know their surroundings and exactly how the club operates.
And yet, behind the scenes, away from the pitch, the differences between manager and the executive level – a tight-knit unit comprised of owner Gino Pozzo, chairman Scott Duxbury and technical director Filippo Giraldi – which caused a rift three years ago could have left scar tissue which may never heal. Personal relationships are key to achieving success.
Sanchez Flores is far from the first manager to return to a club – Jose Mourinho with Chelsea, Zinedine Zidane with Real Madrid and Harry Redknapp at Portsmouth are just three other prominent examples – but the risks of such a move are different in every case.
There are no guarantees the Spaniard can pick up where he left off in the first half of the 2015-16 season, when a 3-0 win over Liverpool left his side within a point of the Champions League places at the end of December, rather than the second half, which included just four league wins from 20 games.
Since leaving Watford, Sanchez Flores has achieved a creditable eighth-place finish in La Liga with Espanyol and undergone a less successful stint in China with Shanghai Shenhua, who he left one point above the relegation zone in July.
He will be hoping that, after returning to Hertfordshire, he can provide the results to make it a happy homecoming, instead of an ill-advised backtracking to an old flame.
Main image credit: Getty Images